November 29th 2008; day 12 of 18 of filming

Filming the big dinner party scene:
In April 2007, I met Sharif Nashashibi. I was working on a tight schedule and planning to shoot this film in June that year. A good friend had put me in touch with Sharif of whose work as chairman of Arab Media Watch I had heard. Sharif provides a great service to British media by alerting them, among other issues, to the undercurrent of prejudice and ignorance in their coverage of the Middle East and the Arab World. A week hardly goes by without Arab Media Watch sending out a study of the coverage in the British Press of a news story related to the region. The studies are empirical and objective and I imagine British members of the press would appreciate this sort of feedback, their political allegiances notwithstanding.

During our first meeting at Sharif’s most exquisitely designed family home, I mentioned how we were still in need of a nice living room to film the dinner party scene. Without a moment’s hesitation, Sharif offered me his home to film in. A day later, he called me and confirmed that his mother had agreed to allow us to film in their home. Fortunately for me and for the project, the shoot was postponed twice- from June 2007 to December 2007 and then to November 2008. Yet, Sharif and family kept the faith and did not change their mind during these 18 months separating the first meeting from the actual shoot.

The house is simply brilliant. There is so much attention to detail and to works of art collected over many generations of the Nashashibi family who hail from Palestine. The design is inspired by Moorish Andalusia.

We arrived at ten in the morning, and by the time Sharif came down on his way out, our flags, light stands, boxes of film gear, were strewn all over the living room, the corridor and the kitchen. Tina and Valentina had taken over the dining room and enclosed it in their make-up and costume jurisdiction. Arij created a sign for the downstairs bathroom to prevent people barging in when occupied- being a family home, there is no need to have a lock:-)

The cast in the dinner party scene consisted entirely of very experienced actors. We had Andy Lucas, in the role of Ziyad, the host; Stefan Kalipha, in the role of the wealthy expat Saleem; Houda Echouafni, in the role Suad, Ziyad’s PR executive; Raad Rawi, in the role of the Kurdish poet and philosopher, Hushyar; Nasri Sayegh, in the role of Yusif; Daphne Alexander, in the role of Bisan, and Khalid Laith, in the role Hisham, the exiled journalist opposed to war.

I had to stop myself getting too emotional- so supportive, kindly and generous every single member of this highly experienced cast was towards this budding director. I didn’t really have any notes to give, other than, “brilliant” and “I like… I desire”:-)

We wrapped at 9.30pm, having completed the dinner party scene. We didn’t shoot the scenes between Yusif and Bisan, and between Bisan and Ziyad. Thanks to Sharif’s generous offer, we will be able to return to the house and film these two major scenes next week.

I need to mention a couple of people who have been working throughout this shoot mostly behind the scenes- allowing me to focus on my role as director. Arij al-Soltan and Kawa Rasul, the couple who in their respective roles as production manager and production coordinator have held this production together. I haven’t had to worry about providing the cast and crew with good and healthy food, about brining in missing equipment, about delivering exposed film to the lab and bringing back the rushes, about contracts for the cast and crew, about moving the costumes between locations, about arranging transport for our cast and crew during the night shoot…the list goes on. Arij has been simply extraordinary- using her charm, patience, perseverance and great organisational and negotiation skills to feed the forward momentum of our project. Kawa has gone out of his way in supporting Arij, and also in taking care of members of the cast- his coffee is the stuff of legend:-)

We are now in the last week of the shoot- despite the hardwork, long hours and stress associated with working in small spaces with a team and loads of equipment, I know for a fact that everyone of us will miss this atmosphere, this camaraderie, and this belief in a dream that has brought us all from all over the world [Brazil, Gabriella; France, Amelie; Italy, Alessio, Alice and Valentina; Lebanon, Mahmoud and Nasri; Malaysia, Axle; Britons with origins from Greece-Cyprus, Andy, Daphne, Alex and Tina; a Briton of Algerian origins, Riyadh "Mr Boom-Boom"; Trinidad, Stefan; Spain, Jose; Palestine, Sharif; Bahrain, Khalid; Morocco-Egypt, Houda; Switzerland, Daniel; South Africa, Tina [again:-)], UK, Kamal, Kate and Dominique, and a sprinkling of Iraqis].

May this be the beginning of many more creative collaborations in this magical city, London- it has brought this international group of filmmakers together.

Until tomorrow.

Salam and peace.

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