DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP Associated Press Writer SEATTLE
The Seattle film crew detained in Nigeria over the weekend was well aware of the potential danger of traveling in that country, a colleague who traveled with the group on two previous trips said Monday. "You don't go into a region l ike that assuming there couldn't be problems. It's always a possibility," said Leslye Wood, spokeswoman for "Sweet Crude," a documentary about oil production in the Niger River delta. Wood has not heard from the four Americans and a Nigerian man accompanying them since they were taken into custody by the Nigerian military on Saturday. They have been accused of traveling in the country illegally. But she added, "We're in the middle of some possible progress." Wood talked to someone in the U.S. State Department, who told her a representative from the embassy in Abuja was on her way by car to see the group. "We're waiting to hear from them," she said. "We're certainly very anxious to hear from someone who has actually seen them." This was the film crew's fourth trip to the Niger delta during the past two-and-a-half years, said Wood who was on two of those trips. She said the group has had no previous problems but was aware that Nigeria can be dangerous place. She emphasized that the film crew entered the country legally on April 5 and was transparent in its visa application, making it clear that they would be completing the filming of the documentary. "It's a place that you become very educated about ... you do your best to cover the contingencies," she said. Wood said friends and family of the missing film crew were extremely concerned about the filmmakers' safety, especially since several other Western photographers and filmmakers have been detained over the past few years. Various foreigners have been picked up in the Niger delta in recent months as security forces have stepped up efforts to quell unrest in the region. Several people, including two filmmakers working on a different documentary, were expelled from the country on alleged visa violations. "We're urgently calling on the State Department to intervene. We're working on many fronts to try to get that to happen and that's where our attention is right now," Wood said. Sandi Cioffi, 46, director of the documentary "Sweet Crude," has produced and/or directed several films, including "Crocodile Tears," about an HIV-positive man who makes a deal wi th the devi l , and "Terminal 187," a half-hour drama on teen violence. She also traveled to South Africa to film that country's transition from apartheid in 1995. Tammi Sims, 34, Cliff Worsham, 39, and Sean Porter, 25, make up the rest of the crew detained in Nigeria. Sims, the former Tammi Pimley, is a native of Joplin, Mont., her brother said. Joel Bisina, a peace mediator and founder of Niger Delta Professionals for Development in Warri, was traveling with them. "We're anxious to get news that they are safe and well and hoping to hear some good news very soon," Wood said.