Normally I would have rejected the idea of filming the journey, because the process is too intrusive, but Manfred Waffender has been a friend for twenty years and I knew he would be sensitive to the spirit of the adventure. We met first when he was working as an editor for Rowohlt, a German Publishing house. He commissioned the German translation of Jupiters Travels and we have been good friends ever since.This beautiful film covers six episodes of the first leg through Africa. The theme is Memory. It is not like any ‘biker movie’ you may have seen.
The filming of the documentary was concluded in Cape Town in August of 2001. He shot in Tunisia, Sudan, Nairobi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and he is justifiably happy with the results. When I asked Manfred, before we started, to describe what he had in mind for the film, he put together this beautiful account, which I have reprinted verbatim below.
A film about a man, his motorbike and his memory
by Manfred Waffender
The baking Sahara desert. The sun beats down. A trickle of sand shifts under the heat haze. Otherwise, nothing.
And then, a sight so strange that, if it wasn’t caught in the beauty of this camera shot, you’d swear it was a mirage. Over the ridge comes a motorcycle, fully laden, ridden by a tall figure wearing a leather jacket, goggles and helmet. He rides up to the camera and, full frame, takes off his headgear. We can see that he’s a European, and handsome. But we might not guess, even now, that he’s about to celebrate his seventieth birthday.
This is a film of memorable images of landscape and people. It’s a road movie which takes us through Europe and through the length of the African continent. It’s a film about travel, and what travel can do for the soul. And it’s a film about memory. At its heart is a compulsion, a compulsion experienced by a remarkable man a quarter of a century ago.
The first time I met Ted was more than twenty years ago. He was an accomplished writer who had just finished his book “Jupiter’s Travels” and I was an editor at Rowohlt, a German publishing house. The company had just bought the German language rights and it was my responsibility to oversee the translation and the publishing of the book in German.
I met him in a small flat in London and I remember how we were bending over his lighting table, looking at the slides from his four-year journey.
A few month ago we were looking at these slides again. They became the starting points in our preparation for this feature length documentary film.
Ted, at the age of 69, is going around the world on a motorbike again. And I, an independent producer of documentary films, am following him with a small film crew.
The film will use the slides and quotes from “Jupiter’s Travels” and connect them with his present journey. Ted is visiting the same places he visited 27 years ago, and trying to find the people he met at that time.
At the end of February, when we were following Ted in our van in Southern Italy and came to Roggiano, we observed how Ted was stopped by a small Fiat car. The driver of the car pointed at Ted, and in a strong southern Italian accent said, “Jupiter?”
He had seen the logo on the back of his bike. He turned out to be the son of Giuseppe Zanfini, a social activist, who Ted had met a quarter of a century ago.
The father had passed away a few years ago, but the son, who was twelve years old at the time of Ted’s visit, helped Ted to identify and find the people in his photographs.
A couple of days later, on our way to Tunis, we recorded a long interview with Ted. He said:
“Thousands of years ago it was written in the Baghavad Gita that without memory we are like monkeys, we are doomed to chaos and foolishness. Memory is, in my view, the most important single aspect of humanity. Because without it we have nothing to compare anything with: we can’t make stories, we can’t develop our imagination, everything depends on our ability to remember things. We all know: people who don’t remember are doomed to repeat their mistakes. The lesson has been told many times in many different ways. So for me the exercise of trying to relate what I find today with what I remember from 27 years ago is a very valid exercise, I think it will illuminate something. Just how much depends on my ability to remember and on my ability to write and describe what I am thinking and feeling. It is very early in the game at the moment, we have yet to see how it’s going to work out.
“Already just from the few contacts that we’ve had it begins to seem as though I can make something out of all this. We’ll have to see how far it goes”
On March 15th we met Ted in Atbara in Sudan. We went to find a small school in the middle of the desert – to see who would remember him – with dramatic results. In May we found him in Nairobi, celebrating his 70th birthday on crutches, after breaking a leg in the wilderness of the NW frontier.
DVD, 90 Min | ZDF/Arte 2002