Hemdale's $15-million "Bethune," the joint venture between China and the West being shot in remote Yan'an in the People's Republic, has been fraught with problems: language difficulties, health problems because of primitive hygienic conditions, transportation nightmares, et al. But the biggest discontent has come right from the gut.
"Our food has been a catastrophe," said co-producer Pieter Kroonenburg.
So Donald Sutherland (he plays Canadian doctor Norman Bethune, battlefield surgeon in Mao Tse-tung's Eighth Route Army during the Chinese Revolution) and Helen Shaver (a Canadian missionary in China and Bethune's love interest) pooled $200 to prepare a home-style meal for 50 cast and crew on director Philip Borsos' birthday. Shaver did most of the cooking.
Lamb and pork was roasted on a contrived barbecue. "For a vegetable," said Shaver, "I had the Chinese steam me 120 yams." For apple pie, apples and white flour were plentiful, but not baking dishes, ovens or rolling pins. So she used Chinese serving trays covered with tin foil, begged for butter, rolled her dough with a tree limb and put her pies atop bricks on coals in a furnace. "It worked!"
Conditions have been so bad that the crew recently engaged in a 24-hour work stoppage until the producers assured them of better standards in food, hygiene, living and safety conditions.
"We certainly have had more difficulties than any of us imagined in our wildest dreams," said co-producer Nicholas Clermont. "But we are persevering as we film in places that have never before been seen by Westerners--let alone Western movie crews."
Shooting will continue into mid-summer before moving to (whew!) Montreal.