Peace Corps Writers
  To preserve and to learn
Making David Schickele’s Peace Corps Film

by Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961–63)

For a biography of David Schickele go to the 2001 Fargo: The Film Festival site.

David Schickele's music

Read Roger Landrum's tribute to David in the Friends of Nigeria newsletter, Winter, 1999

Obituary of David in our "Literary Type" 11/1999

 More Peace Corps history:

A Peace Corps Test    

 Establishing the PC   

Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux   

The Marjorie Michelmore Postcard

Outward Bound -
Puerto Rico training

2/15/62 - PA newspaper doubts future
of Peace Corps

PCV Accused of
Murdering His Wife

The Real Job of the Peace Corps - a ’60s staff member’s view

March 1, 1961

A COUPLE OF YEARS AFTER WE SERVED together as PCVs in Nigeria, David Schickele asked me if I would be part of a film project he was proposing to the Peace Corps. The basic concept was to capture the adventure of crossing into another culture and the rewards gained from escaping the cocoon in which Americans living abroad typicallyPrinter friendly version enclose themselves. It is an experience common among many PCVs to one degree or another, and for the Peace Corps, this film could be used to recruit the next wave of Volunteers, focusing on its two mandated cross-cultural goals rather than the more commonly publicized development assistance goal. Our personal experiences in Africa had been a revelation to us in numerous ways, and David wanted to make a documentary providing Americans with a new perspective from inside the Volunteer’s Peace Corps and a different view of Africans.
     The Peace Corps was jittery about the proposed project. In 1965, David was unknown, at the beginning of a career as an independent filmmaker and musician. These were still the early years of the Peace Corps, and facing a lot of Congressional skepticism, the agency was sensitive about its image both in Washington and with the American public. This project did not fit the preferred style of hiring a powerful PR firm to shape the Peace Corps message and conducting recruitment campaigns under tight agency control. But as things often happened in those days, Harris Wofford got behind the project and convinced Sargent Shriver to take a chance, despite strong objections from others within the Peace Corps.
     At the time, I was a Peace Corps employee, a program officer in the Division of Training, and I soon got a taste of the obstacles David and Harris had overcome. In preparation for our filmmaking party’s departure, my passport had to be sent, with Travel Orders, through the General Counsel’s office for final approval. There they were confiscated and declared “lost.” It took a confrontational hubbub to pry them out only a short time before the party’s scheduled flight to Nigeria. That was just the beginning of our troubles.

Starting with only an idea
I have to admit there was not much of a plan for the film, except in David’s mind. There was no written script. And I had never been in a film before and was fairly nervous myself about what role I was expected to play. The general plan was to meet up with four Nigerian friends — former students of ours at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka between 1961 through 1963 — and David would capture the ensuing reunions and take things from there. Our friends had not even been notified we were coming. The idea was to take them by surprise.

  Jagua Nana is available at for prices between $5 and $35.      The Peace Corps country director, David Elliott, could not have been more helpful. He had a Peace Corps vehicle lined up for us along with the Nigerian driver requested by David — a trusted colleague from our Volunteer days. But the Nigerian government had to approve letting an American film crew loose in their country at a time when they were even more sensitive about their image than the Peace Corps was. After fruitless visits to many government offices in Lagos to obtain the proper documents, we finally got another break when we ended up before the Minister of Culture. The Minister turned out to be Cyprian Ekwensi, a famous Nigerian novelist whose most popular work, Jagua Nana, was the story of a celebrated Nigerian prostitute. Minister Ekwensi was not stuck on propaganda. He and David hit it off and we soon had the necessary documents to deal with policemen or other government agents who might spot our film crew at work

The filming crew
The crew was David, with a hand held 16 mm camera, a second cameraman, a soundman, the Nigerian driver, and myself. As I remember, we had five weeks to locate our Nigerian friends and get enough footage for David to create his recruiting film. This is something of a blur to me, and not only because this all happened many years ago. Being surrounded by a film crew is more than a small distraction from returning to your Peace Corps site.

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