Archive for October, 2011

October 30th 2011

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Filmwise:
Mesocafé: liaising with people in the industry about the film.
Cannes documentary: I have completed a second tighter cut of the documentary. The duration is likely to be somewhere between 33 and 36 minutes.

A master class:
Thanks to the kamikaze attitude I’ve had over the summer towards my finances – “sacrifice all to complete the film in time for Raindance” – money-wise, the last three weeks of October have been quite tricky.

On payday, the first priority was to get to watch a film at the BFI London Film Festival. It was the last day of this year’s edition, and it was a pleasant surprise to find places still available at the screening of the very last feature at the festival, Las Acasias (Dir. Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina, 2011).

As road movies go, this was one story where not much happens – no car chases, no punch-ups in inter-state highway diners, no frustrated young woman looking to catch a ride to the big city.

En route to delivering a consignment of timber, a truck driver is asked by his employer to give a woman a lift from the border with Paraguay to Buenos Aires. Hoping for some diversion from the monotony of the road, the driver (Rubén) is disappointed to find the woman (Jucinta) to be accompanied by a baby girl.

Very little is said between the two on the road to the Argentinean capital, but then a lot is revealed in the transformation that Rubén undergoes as he finds the father and child in himself as he connects with Jucinta’s baby daughter.

The film ends with a promise of a better day for all three.

Simply, majestic and effortlessly lyrical storytelling.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

October 23rd 2011

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Filmwise:

Mesocafé: I haven’t started work on mending the technical issue. Have been using the time I’ve allocated to Meso on liaising with potential screening events.

Cannes documentary: I am thrilled to say, the first assembly of the film is complete. This feeling of elation and joy would be more in context after I divulge the little fact that not only has this project been in the making for over four and a half years, but its editing began well over 18 months ago.

Having dedicated two whole days to editing the final sequence in the story, I had to resort to extreme measures to prevent myself from watching the full cut straight after the end of this stage of editing. An expedition to clean my spices, herbs and, er, stationary shelf in the kitchen was the only way to keep me away from the computer!

I waited for all of 12 hours before finally succumbing to the temptation to watch the result of 18 months of editing (on and off) and, more importantly, reconnecting with the images and voices of the people who allowed me to interview and feature them in the film.

There is still a great deal of work that needs to go into the edit, before I bring in the composer and sound designer. But it is a promising start.

Leighton House Museum
Yet another place that one’s been hearing about for years and years – perhaps as far back as when I was studying for my A Levels at the local library, where I probably saw a poster for this gem hidden away in a backstreet in Kensignton.

The passion and love that must have gone into building this house is palpable in the magnificence of the Arabic script and Middle Eastern works of art that adorn its interiors. The fact that this was all created in the 19th century, partly with over a thousand Islamic tiles that Fredric Lord Leighton had brought with him from Damascus, makes it the more remarkable.

My visit to the museum had come about thanks to the screening of Qarantina (Dir. Oday Rasheed, Iraq 2010).

Being shown as part of the Nour Festival, Qarantina is the second feature from this Iraqi director who’s acquired the respect and admiration of filmmakers and audiences around the world, thanks to his debut feature. Underexposure (Iraq, 2005) was shot immediately after the US invasion, and as such has become a valuable document in celluloid for the first year of post-invasion Baghdad.

With Qarantina, Rasheed aims for a far more studied and languid pace of storytelling. His camera moves with grace and the eruption of emotions is rarely allowed beyond the eyes of his characters. There are instances, however, where this elegance gives way to melodrama and overt symbolism.

What I loved most about Rasheed’s second feature is the way he painted Baghdad for me. Having been exasperated with the way this capital of the Abbasid Muslim Empire of the Eighth to the Eleventh Century has been depicted in TV news, documentaries and any fiction films set in Iraq, it was truly refreshing to see this former world capital through the eyes of a Baghdadi filmmaker.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

October 16th 2011

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Filmwise: The technical issues that I mentioned on the day of our world premiere are still to be resolved. I haven’t had the time to look into them thus far.

Even though there still remain many pieces to fully complete the post-production jigsaw, in my mind, the film is complete. What still needs to be done are minor, though time consuming, tweaks on the technical front. They will be addressed soon.

In view of the final boxes that need to be ticked off before the film is also technically complete, I have postponed the private Mesocafé screening that was scheduled for early December.

“Who’s the author?”
Enjoying my first day off post-returning to work at the office, earlier this week, I intentionally opted to walk the several miles from my part of town to the West End to meet up with the award-winning director Koutaiba al-Janabi.

Arriving at the designated coffee shop, I was drawn to the sight of a line of people snaking around the big Waterstones bookshop in Piccadilly.

“I thought JK Rowling was done with Harry Potter!”
“Hello friends, are you queuing for a book signing?”
Chorus of three – “Yes!”
Moi, thinking that perhaps it could be Dan Brown’s latest. “Who’s the author?”
“Michael Buble.”
“Who?”

The contingent of teenage girls that joined the queue at that moment made me discard the note to self – no need to check him on the net :- )

Peace and love,
Ja’far

Raindance Film Festival II

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

With the world premiere of MESOCAFÉ out of the way by Sunday night, the new week danced to a less anxious tune.

Indeed, with this being the first actual time off work I’ve had since the new year, I was determined to make full use of this break from the daily routine. Throughout the week, the mornings have been dedicated to completing the first assembly of my Cannes documentary.

It’s official: parts one and two are complete; conclusion is beckoning.

Obviously, this is a mere first rough cut, and there is still a great deal to do, re-do and re-do some more; it’s a foundation for the completed work.

The afternoons and evenings have been mostly dedicated to the festival, watching films, chatting with festival organisers and with other filmmakers.

I made every effort to be at the screening of all of the four features that are in competition at the same category as our film. My favourite of the four is Julius Caesar (Dirs. Adam Lee Hamilton, John Montegrande, UK 2011). I enjoyed Monk3ys (Dir. Drew Cullingham, UK 2011). Jonnie Hurn was especially great. Didn’t think Black Pond (Dirs. Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley, UK 2011) deserved to be in the same league as the other three contenders in the category. Finally, Uspomene 677 (Dir. Mirko Pincelli, Bosnia Herzegovina/UK 2011) was a captivating piece of documentary filmmaking.

I also had the pleasure of watching Leaving Baghdad (Dir. Koutaiba al-Janabi, UK/Iraq 2010). A portrait of a father’s relationship with his absent son that is made infinitely more moving by the fact that the father is a refugee trying his utmost to be reunited with his wife who lives in London. An uncompromising and original film.

On the night of the awards ceremony, Paul Hills (my friend and the executive producer of both our film and also of Monk3ys) reserved a seat for me next to him.

The chap next to me asked, “are you in competition? what’s your film called?”

Our category was half-way through the ceremony. Festival founder Elliot Grove handed the envelope to a lady – unfortunately, can’t recall her name. She read out aloud the titles of the five features in competition. The lights went down and a short clip from each film played on the big screen. From MESCOAFÉ, they screened the scene in which Yusif takes a photograph of London from his hotel window, before blogging about his first impressions of the city.

The lights went back on, and the lady called out “Monk3ys”.

Paul looked at me with concern. I shook his hand and clapped for Jonnie and his gang as they collected the award. When they returned to their seats, I shook hands with Jonnie. Really delighted for him; he’s been through a great deal as a filmmaker, and he most certainly deserves to win.

At the closing night gala, I finally got to chat with the festival programmer. I thanked her for picking our film from the 1,800 features that were submitted to the festival. “Believe me, it was nothing; it’s a great movie. We look forward to screening your next film at Raindance.”

Bless her.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

World Premiere of MESOCAFÉ at Raindance

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

October 1st 2011: The night before:

I am so anxious, wary and climbing-the-walls excited that I clear the storage cupboard in my room. It is something that I have been meaning to do since 2002!

With my place looking a bit more spacious, thanks to the disappearance into the re-organised cupboard the many boxes that had taken over my kitchenette and almost every corner in my room, this seems to be an opportune moment to take a stroll around the building.

The walk lasts for two hours. I pass-by the café at which I wrote many scenes of MESOCAFÉ, and where on many occasions I would hold my head in despair at the interminable demands of the thesis.

Back at home, I check my emails and text messages. Everyone who’s promised to attend our screening is coming. Brilliant.

I fall asleep well after midnight.

October 2nd 2011: The day of screening:
I am up by 8AM. I get the shower and coffee quickly out of the way. I keep checking and rechecking the list of people who are attending.

I receive a call from Koutaiba al-Janabi, a fellow filmmaker whose feature LEAVING BAGHDAD is part of the official selection at Raindance. Sayyid Koutaiba is enquiring whether any tickets are left for a couple of journalists who are interested in attending our screening. I am not sure.

I arrive at the Apollo Cinema, Piccadilly Circus, at 11AM.

Raindance - Apollo 2-1-11
We are booked for a rehearsal screening. Due to a film playing at our screen, I wait until 11:35 for the rehearsal.

In the intervening time, I bump into the founder of the festival Elliot Grove by the box office. I thank him for having our film at Raindance. He relates to me how the senior festival programmer had chosen more films from independent filmmakers, like us, than from those with distribution and sales agents.

The rehearsal screening doesn’t go well. I am not happy with the sound. The image is not how I had imagined it would be. The issue with the image is more to do with a technical glitch which will need to be addressed later. The sound, however, is fixed immediately.

As I leave the projection booth, I meet sit Sajidah Amory, the lady who had overseen a search campaign for the purse that appears in the film.

At the door of the screen, a festival volunteer confides in me, “it is very busy!”

I walk through the corridor that leads to the auditorium, and it is almost a full house.

Elliot arrives and guides me through the process: “after the festival trailer, I will introduce you, and then you would introduce the film.”

My heart pounds exponentially faster as I watch the trailer from the edge of the room.

The lights come up again, and Elliot walks into the spotlight.

Elliot: “Let me tell you a story about a young filmmaker who came down to our Raindance offices back in 1998. I don’t recall any of this, except that I had less grey hair.  Apparently, he met me and I gave him some advice about film courses. Move the clock forward to 2011, and the same young man is here in Raindance with Mesocafé. Please give a big round of applause to Ja‘far ‘Abd al-Hamid.”

I shake hands with Elliot, and manage a thank you to the audience, to Raindance and to Elliot.

The one seat that I was hoping to take, fortunately, is still vacant.

It is at the edge of the back row.

The avant titre music that sayyid Mazin had so lovingly performed for me plays to a darkened room. The purse that sit Sajidah had found for me appears on screen. It is beautifully captured by Alessio Valori. Schuman, our editor, has done a brilliant job creating a montage from the different takes, and at varied film speeds, that we have of the purse.

The audience is largely quiet, but they seem to be immersed in the story. The technical issue with the image doesn’t appear to be hindering their enjoyment of the film.

The final scene in the film ends with a spellbinding voiceover from Bisan, delivered with a voice that reflects a level of lucidity and honesty that the audience seems to find most moving. Thank you Daphne.

The lights come back on, and Elliot calls out my name.

I descend the steps towards the screen.

I thank Elliot and Raindance, and I ask all the cast and crew to stand up so the audience can see each and every one of the Meso family.

The Q&A goes remarkably well. Elliot, Paul Hills, Daphne Alexander, sit Ahlam Arab and Rory from the festival – they all are most generous and benevolent towards this budding filmmaker. I make a point of mentioning Arij al-Soltan, our production manager, who was not at the screening.

As soon as the Q&A ends, Elliot whispers in my ear, “it might be an idea for you to move closer to the door.”

I don’t understand what he means until I see a queue forming of almost all the wonderful and supportive audience members.

I say hello to Kerris and to Clare, my colleagues from the media monitoring night-shift. I am not sure if my sentences are coherent, as I thank every person who takes the time to say hello. I am touched by the presence of the parents of Houda Echouafni. I salute her father – “Long Live Egypt Free”. He laughs.

We move to the foyer, and there is JP Kamath, another comrade from the night-shift. I am moved by his kindness. There is also Hitesh and Brian who had only just come off the night-shift and they would have to be at work for another night of work later in the day.

Thanks to sayyid Cheanir, we find a little drinking establishment off Jermyn Street. I finally get to chat with Stew. It’s been such a long time. There is also Julian Boote (plays the role of a TV journalist). As a fellow filmmaker, his admiration for the film is especially encouraging.

I catch up with Amelie (script supervisor), Kate (focus puller), Alice (clapper/loader), Daniel (production designer), Stephanie (plays the role of a US embassy official), and Paul Hills (my brother and our Executive Producer). I also ask after the latest from Zaynab, the young lady whom I had met en route to Kawa’s film shoot in January.

Our online editor and his wife are there too. It is only after they leave that I remember the one thing I had wanted to do on seeing the young couple at the screening – to thank Mouthanna’s wife for the lovely food she’d cooked us during our grading sessions.

It is great to catch-up with Daphne (the lead) after the screening. She’s waited so long to see the result of our collaboration.

Sit Ahlam (plays the role of Zaynab the cafe owner), sayyid Kawa (plays the role of Tawfiq, a cafe regular), sayyid Mazin (‘oud player), sayyid Hisham (a member of the production team), and ‘Aziz al-Na’ib (plays the role of the taxi driver) – we all head to Green Park for an impromptu picnic. We are joined by Moreas (a member of the Meso family) and his Italian friend. The Italian friend can actually speak Arabic. Amazing.

I end this blessed day by watching Black Pond (Dir. Tom Kingsley, 2011 UK), which is in competition at the festival.

Peace and love,

Ja’far