Archive for April, 2012

April 29th 2012

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Filmwise:

Following up on connections made at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai.

Happy wishes

Earlier this month, I took a long lazy walk in my part of town. The skies had had their fill of rain-laden clouds, and so the Sun had given in to their incessant requests for an appearance.

As I crossed the road to one of my favourite bookshops in London, my gaze absently fell on a familiar face. The recognition took a couple of beats before it blossomed into a smile on both of our faces.

“You seem familiar!”

“Your sister went to my college,” I said smiling.

With the clock bringing her appointment closer and closer, we both shared a moment reflecting on our last meeting all those years ago.

As she hurried away, she turned back and said sweetly, “I wish you happiness.”

She crossed the road too quickly for me to say, “thank you; it’s my birthday!”

Peace and love,

Ja’far

Gulf Film Festival (Dubai) Part V

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

The glass skylight shields me from the ferocious monsoon pounding the office. I take a sip of coffee while a colleague digests my adventures at the Gulf Film Festival. He is the third person to have heard my anecdotes and stories from Dubai. I am pleased by his pleasure in learning about the royal treatment us filmmakers received in the UAE; my trip to the Gulf seems to hold true the belief we dreamers have that if we persevere, we will get there.

As I walk out of the office, I feel as if I am walking down from my hotel room to the lobby. There I would bump into Hussayn, Nada and Nada, and Mjd (pronounced Majd). They all are smiles and greetings. Mahmoud, in charge of film traffic, is still cheerful despite appearing like he hasn’t had any sleep all week. Delphine, the senior executive of the festival, seems all too familiar with the Odyssey that is running a film festival. We exchange greetings as she walks into “smokers’ alley”. I feel like following her into the den, for these festival smokers have a real buzz about them. Alas, the draw of a film screening is all too great.

En route to the Grand Cinemas multiplex, which is a few minutes walk within Dubai Festival City, I pass by a young Emirati filmmaker whom I’d met at the opening ceremony. I wish if I had the time to ask him how his short film was received at the festival, but the screening time is too close for a chat.

As I climb the escalators I see down below an Iraqi director walking in the middle of a throng of film critics. “Need to watch his film; missed the first screening!”

At the festival box office, I become all too aware of the passing of my teens and twenties, confronted as I am by this abundance of youth in the faces of the young men and women working for the festival.

I head to “Hatem”, the Iranian restaurant managed by Muhammed, a Syrian gentleman. He doesn’t appear to have taken a single day’s rest throughout the festival.

At the food hall, I am pleased to find the great Egyptian director Muhammad Khan seated with Mohammed Rouda, the film critic, and Antoine Khalifah, a member of the festival team. I join them.

“What is this! Is this some sort of an exam you’re putting me through?”, Mr Khan quips after I bombard him with questions about his films.

En route back to the cinema, I encounter two film critics: Adnan Hussayn Ahmad and Salah Sarmini. I am tempted to continue chatting all things cinema with the two, but there is a film I would like to see.

Enveloped in the darkness of the cinema, I feel immersed in the humanity and lucidity of “Amal”, the documentary by the Emirati director Nojoom al-Ghanim. It is a poem from one woman, the filmmaker, about another, Amal. I leave the cinema with a distinct feeling that I am at some level a better person than the moment I entered the cinema.

At the press office of the festival, I find a number of journalists wishing to interview me. “Are you sure?”, I ask.

Having watched my first fiction short back in 2001, Irfan Rashid interviews me about the journey to make my debut feature. It is truly a heart-to-heart.

On the red carpet of the closing ceremony, with the cameras going “Tchick, Tchick, Tchick”, I greet the festival director, Masoud Amrallah Al Ali. I don’t wish to take too much of his time. I simply say, “Ya’teek al-Afyah” (May you have some well deserved rest).

Thank you the Gulf Film Festival.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

Next blog will be on Sunday the 29th of April.

Gulf Film Festival (Dubai) Part IV

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Part I

Part II

Part III

It is the day of our International Premiere. The screening is scheduled for nine this evening. I have an early breakfast and spend the morning drumming up interest for our film.

En route to the cinema multiplex, which is within a walking distance from our hotel in Dubai Festival City, I bump into a Lebanese film critic. She shows me the cinema ticket for Mesocafé. An Egyptian critic asks me for a ticket. I promise to set one aside for him.
Box office - 5th Gulf Film Festival, Dubai
I walk with Mohammed Rouda, the film critic, to the box office. He books a number of tickets, including one for Mesocafé.
I ask the young Emirati woman at the box office, “how many tickets have been booked  for Mesocafé?”
She says, 32.
That leaves more than a hundred empty seats.
We head over to the food hall for lunch. The Egyptian critic joins us. I hand him the ticket.
I spend the remainder of the day emailing friends in Dubai, and making sure that all the filmmakers whom I’ve met here will be in attendance.
At six in the evening, I head back to the box office. The number of bookings has risen to 50.
With three hours still to go, I walk back to my hotel room. I am so anxious that I take to washing a pair of dirty socks – don’t ask!
At eight, I am outside the cinema. I check with the box office; 62 tickets.
I overhear a couple of ladies chatting in Arabic: “If you like, we can see it on Sunday.”
I interject, “forgive me, but which film are you talking about?”
“Mesocafé”
I encourage them to stay for tonight’s screening.
Minutes later, Sara arrives. She is a dear friend and was one of the kindly souls who braved the night shoot at the cafe.
We both wonder about the ticket numbers. Sara asks and comes back with a surprise: 142.
I am such a bag of nerves that I only realise what time it is when it’s almost nine.
I rush to the cinema.
I am received by Nada, a local Emirati young woman who is to present the film.
“We have been waiting for you.”
The theatre is about two thirds full.
I take a seat, my pounding heart is tapping at my rib cage.
People keep coming in as Nada presents the film. I stand up and greet the audience. There is a polite round of applause.
I take my seat in the corner of a row in the middle of the auditorium. My favourite seat at edge of the back row is already taken.
As the lights go down more people come in.
The avant titre fills the screen, accompanied by the magical ‘Oud melody played by Mazin Jasim.
More people keep coming in.
A couple sit to my right in the row behind me. The father is carrying a baby – less than a year old.
As the film progresses, the baby gives a running commentary of “aaa”, “babbaba”, “mammama”…
At certain scenes in the story, I keep praying that my youngest audience member doesn’t suddenly get the inspiration to sing.
Fortunately, my little friend isn’t that disruptive.
Looking at the film on the big screen with an HDCam screener, I am delighted by the audience’s reaction to the humour and the more touching moments in the story. Both the Arabs and none Arabs in the theatre love the character of Tawfiq, played by Kawa Rasul. I watch through the dark how people’s faces begin to mellow every time he appears on the screen. His scene with Robert North (played by Julian Boote) draws a sustained laugh that continues after we cut away to another scene.
The Q&A session goes fairly well, with praise for documenting Iraqi  culture in the film.
A couple of fellow filmmakers shake my hands and thank me for the film. The two ladies that I met by the box office come and congratulate me. They promise to come back for the second screening on Sunday.
There is also criticism on certain aspects in the story.
Respectful though I am of the opinions expressed, I don’t feel particularly drawn to the logic of these points.
I spend the remainder of the evening at the Gulf Nights seminar about film production in the region. It is an instructive session with valuable input from festival director Masoud Amralla Al Ali and the Egyptian director Muhammad Khan.
A good day.
Peace and love,
Ja’far
Part V

Gulf Film Festival (Dubai) Part III

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Part I

Part II

Day 3

The highlight of the day is lunch with the great Egyptian director Muhammad Khan. I have watched his films probably since the age of 17. His work has screened in festivals all over the world.
The lunch happens by accident as I am seated in the food hall of Dubai Festival City shopping centre with Mohammed Rouda, a film critic for some of the better known dailies in the Arab world, and the man behind a film blog/film reader that I’ve been following for a few years.
Khan comes over to say hello to Ruda and has his lunch on the table with us.
Both Muhammads have lived in London in the past. When I relate to them the venue of Mesocafé’s World Premiere, the former Plaza Cinema in Piccadilly, Khan recalls attending the world premiere of Hitchcock’s Psycho at the very same cinema.
A thoroughly enjoyable day.
Peace and love,
Ja’far
Part IV
Part V

Gulf Film Festival (Dubai) Part II

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Part I

Day 2

Due to a typo on my part, the calendar on my phone indicates today designated for a morning tour of Dubai. I only recognise the mistake when I am hit by the empty hotel lobby.
Being determined not to waste a morning out of bed, I ask the Ukrainian young woman at reception, “where do you recommend I spend this morning?”
She suggests Jumaira Beach Residence.
The taxi driver from Bangladesh acts as a tour guide, offering a running commentary on the towers flanking the wide boulevard that is Shaikh Zayed Road.

I encounter a small scattering of people  at the Jumaira Beach Residence; I fear it’s too early in the day for a tour of the area,

I find a cafe and take a seat on one of the tables dotting the pavement near shops and restaurants.

I talk about the Gulf Film Festival to the young lady from Belarus who is waiting on me. I recommend our film.
“Do I need an invitation?”
“No, and all tickets are free.”

In the evening, I watch “Red Heart” (Dir. Halkawt Mustafa, Iraq/Norway, 2011). It is a sweet and moving story, and beautifully shot. I don’t think I’ve seen the landscape of the north of Iraq so cinematically captured in a feature film before. I love the simplicity and linear storytelling style of the young director.

A great day.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Gulf Film Festval (April 10th to 16th) Part I

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Monday

I rise early – need to burn a few Press Pack DVDs, get a hair cut, empty my fridge, sort out a data roaming bundle for my phone, and pack for the seven-day trip.
My computer is unusually cantankerous today; it keeps stopping half-way through the burn process before crashing.
I leave it with a new DVD and head to the hairdresser.

“How would you like your hair?,” the stylist asks in what I took to be an East European accent.
“I would like it  a bit less scruffy, please.”
Back at home, I find the computer has used my absence productively.  I start inserting one DVD after another while I empty the fridge and start packing.
It is only two hours before the flight that I finally get to leave my place.
At Heathrow, the two friendly young women at the Emirates  check-in desk chat with me as they tag my worn-out suitcase.
“Are you going to Dubai for business or a holiday?”
” We have a film screening at the Gulf Film Festival.”
“Oh, wow; what’s your film about?’
“I suppose the best way to describe it is a love story..”
A collective “Aah” from the ladies in uniform.
I find my seat by the window on the gentle giant that is the A380.
The passenger next to me appears all too familiar with the gadgets on display in the flight entertainment console.
“You seem like a seasoned traveller!”, I said, smiling.
“I’ve flown to Dubai 24 times.”
“What do you think of it?”
“I hate it!”
Lost for a response to this conversation killer, I busy myself looking through the window.
“Dubai just doesn’t make sense; that’s all!”
He then shuts his eyes and pushes his seat back.
Rather than go to sleep, I spend the flight watching Egyptian movies. Several times I burst out laughing at the well-executed comedy.
On the flight route monitor the flight path of the plane is related with great 3D graphics. We fly over German cities followed by Eastern European territories.
I go back to my Egyptian film as the flying fish carries us through the change in climate from the cold north to the heat of the south.
It is a particularly amusing incident in the Egyptian film that causes me to glance away from the small screen before me to look at the flight route monitor on the big screen.
It shows the plane gently floating over Baghdad.
I press pause on the Egyptian comedy. I follow intently as the graphics reveal the blue of the great Tigris river weaving its ancient route through the green of Mesopotamia.
It strikes me that since my first experience of setting foot aboard an airplane as a child when my family left Iraq this is the first time I have “returned” to the birthplace of my mother and my father.
Basra comes onto view on the graphic, then slowly stepping back before the greenish blue of the Gulf.
I somehow can’t go back to the Egyptian movie.
As we land at Dubai International I see yet another example of the knowledge of the experienced traveller next to me of the rituals of air travel. He manages to leave his seat, get his hand luggage from the overhead compartment and be one of the first to get off the plane.
I savour the experience and watch everyone in my section of the aircraft disembark before I make my way towards the door.
Within a short walk from the plane, I see my  name on a signboard held aloft by a young woman.
I introduce myself.
“Mr ‘Abd al-Hamid, we are waiting for one more passenger.”
The passenger turns out to be a journalist who’d interviewed me at the Raindance Film Festival.
We are taken through to luggage collection before having our passports stamped at a special
VIP immigration desk.

While the passports are stamped, the journalist makes a prediction about our film. I am not as confident as he genuinely appears to be.

I am deposited in the back of an executive chauffeur-driven car. The driver is from Pakistan. My attempt at making conversation falls flat. I don’t speak his language, and his English consists of little more than  ”yes” and “thank you”.
At the five-star hotel,  the check in is smooth and ever so quick.
Within minutes of getting to my room on the 18th floor, I get a call from a festival organiser.
“Your badge and itinerary are ready for collection.”
I meet Nada and Hussayn in the hotel lobby. I head with them to the Festival office. I say hello to Delphine, the senior festival organiser.
At the welcome lunch, I meet the artistic director of the festival, Masoud Amrallah Al Ali. We hug; it’s been many years since we last met.
For lunch, I am seated next to an Emirati and an Iraqi filmmaker. The former is still at high school.
“I wish if I’d gotten into filmmaking when I was as young as you”, I confess to him.

The opening ceremony is simple and the more sweet for it.

At the after party, I find myself chatting with fellow feature film competition participants Katy Chang and J.R. Osborn (Glitter Dust, UAE, 2012, 60 minutes, documentary).

We exchange stories about last-minute post-production issues and we try to calm each others’ nerves about our screenings.

Day Two:
I am expected in the filmmakers lounge at 10:30 in the morning.

As soon as I arrive, Mjd (pronounced Majd), a young lady from the festival team, walks me to my seat on a white cloth-covered round table.

A minute later Sheila from the press office comes over and greets me before introducing a TV crew to the filmmaker seated to my left.

Watching members of the press thread their way around the tables, I begin to worry, “what if I end up being like the boy who is left unpicked while everyone else plays football!”

The thought quickly vanishes the moment Sheila brings over the first TV crew.

After I answer her general questions about the story, funding and casting, the Lebanese reporter wonders: “at 104 minutes, isn’t your film a bit on the long side?”

I explain my view that the duration of a movie has very little bearing on how good or bad the story, direction, or performance in the film is. One can be close to reaching for a revolver to shoot himself after ridding the world of the director on films that barely make the feature film duration criteria of 60/70 minutes, so unintentionally slow and alienating is the piece. At the same time, a well-made two-hour movie would fly by in a blink. The litmus test, for me, is how involved and immersed the audience is in the world created by the director on the big screen.”

She seems to like my logic.

Two interviews later, I spend half an hour chatting with undergraduate students covering the festival for their college website.

In the evening, I attend the world premiere of Glitter Dust.

Whilst waiting for the introduction of the film, I chat to a European couple next to me.
“How did you find out about this screening?”
“We saw the festival programme in Al-Khaleeh Times (a local English language daily).”

The screening goes well and the filmmakers appear prepared for a telling question as to why no Emirati artists appear in a documentary about the art scene in Dubai.

After a quick bite, I am back at the multiplex where the festival screenings are held alongside the the usual Hollywood content.

As I take my seat in the auditorium, a European young lady looks up from her copy of the festival catalogue. Noticing my badge, she asks if I work for the festival.
“No, I am attending. Why do you ask?”
“I haven’t been able to book tickets in advance; it has to be on the day.”
“Are there many films you’d like to see at the festival?”

She takes out a handwritten note. When she reads Mesocafé from her list I can’t hold back my joy in her choice of our film from the fairly big selection of works contained in the catalogue.

I hope she will be able to get a ticket for our international premiere on Friday.
To be continued.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



April 8th 2012

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Gulf Film Festival - In competition 2012 - black on white

Filmwise: The screening dates of MESOCAFÉ at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai have been announced:

Friday April 13th at 21:00

Sunday April 15th at 15:00

For more details, please visit the Gulf Film Festival website.

Over the course of the week, I have managed to add Arabic subtitles and festival laurels to our trailer. Link.

Good friends have been getting in touch to congratulate me over the festival selection and to ask for screening details to pass on to any residents of Dubai they may know.

I was touched by the wish of a couple of people to fly out to the UAE so that they could be there at the screening.

Having viewed the re-onlined print of the film that will screen at the festival, I think the audience will have an even better experience watching the film on the big screen than those who watched the print we showed in October.

Can’t wait.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

April 1st 2012

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Mesocafé will screen in competition at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai. The screening dates at the festival, which is held from the 10th to 16th of April, will be announced shortly.

With the festival being just over a week away, getting a film print ready has been my priority over the past seven days.

On Thursday morning, I finally handed the relevant files to my friends at a production facility in Soho to produce a festival screening print.

On Friday morning, I arranged for an international courier to collect the print from Soho.

With the day having been booked off as holiday, I found myself in that truly rare position of having a lot of time on my hands and very little to do.

I simply wandered around Soho, taking in the laid back mood that I could sense in almost all the pedestrians that had taken over some of the side streets, drinking from cool bottles and, somehow, avoiding any collisions with cars and bicycles.

In the evening, I crossed Waterloo Bridge and made my way to the National Theatre.

With the evening’s show of The Collaborators being sold out, I was happy to settle for a standing place.

At the intermission, a lady (middle-aged, elegant and very well-spoken) approached me.

  • Would you like a seat?
  • Well,…
  • You’re welcome to mine. You can’t see the far left corner of the stage though!
  • Perhaps, I could stay here and you could join me.
  • You have an accent; you’re not English? (In a polite and apologetic manner, she ventured)
  • No, I have been living in London since my teens.

A pause.

  • Do you come to the theatre often?, I asked.
  • Twice a week, though I must admit, I am not too keen on the heavy Nordic stuff that seems to be in vogue at the moment. I like to laugh!

Peace and love,

Ja’far