The first time I saw Epton Gama, he was just a few feet away, popping out of the head-high sea of grass that walls the footpath leading into the village of Zolokere. Without a pause he wrapped his arms around me and said “oooohh my brother!” If I felt a little unease in being so far from the world I was familiar with, it evaporated when Gama appeared. Gama worked for Jake (one of the people in Bush League) at his house taking care of all the day-to-day things like carrying water and cooking. This is a normal arrangement for many people in the region and for almost all the Peace Corps volunteers there. As Jake’s visitor, by default, Gama also took care of me during my first two trips to Malawi. He died from AIDS in late 2008.
A few people have asked me why he isn’t in the film, he only appears in a couple shots. The filmmaker part of me will tell you it’s just casting - Gama wasn’t a “character”. He didn’t embody any specific point of view or sector of life in Zolokere like some of the others do. But Gama’s hand really is all over the film. I know that people watching can never know that but when I watch it’s one of the things I see. He is in the film. He was pivotal in making it.
Films (for me) are primarily stories in pictures but they’re also cultural artifacts that belong to specific times and places. I hope that someday Bush League will fall into a canon of western films in which we started to move our narrative of Africa away from the tired tropes and began to see it with more sophistication and respect. But I also know it’s possible that I got things wrong and that in fifty years it may look unsophisticated and uninformed. So I’m dedicating my effort to make the film to Gama not the film itself. Making it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and through this labor I wish to express to you Gama that I remember you and I recognize you. Please accept this - it was the very best I could do. It is the least I can do.