Archive for June, 2012

June 24th 2012

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

This week has been a story of two screenings.

The first was of Leaving Baghdad, directed by my friend Koutaiba al-Janabi. The film was screened at the BFI, as part of Refugee Week.

With the show scheduled to start at 18:10 on Friday, making it on time required an I-am-too-out-of-shape-for-this sprint from Southwark to the South Bank.

Koutaiba introduced the film and headed out to the lobby; like many directors, he’s happy to entrust his work to the audience.

Being on my second viewing of Leaving Baghdad, I was looking forward to catching some of the nuances and details that I might have missed at the first screening.

Barely ten minutes into the show, I was startled by a flash of light from the row in front of me. Once my eyes readjusted to the darkened room, I realised that a lady was taking pictures of the screen.

A few minutes later, another flash.

This time, I noticed that the audience member was trying to get a film still from the screen, totally oblivious to the fact that she was infringing the copyright of the filmmaker.

After the show, I joined Koutaiba and a group of film critics and academics at the BFI riverside cafe. A great evening.

The second screening was of Cosmopolis (Dir. David Cronenberg, 2012). As someone who’s spent a decade studying film as an academic, I must say that I was drawn to the structure of the narrative and the strategies the director deploys to allow us into the head of this billionaire asset manager.

I am not sure if the film as a whole worked for me, despite a brilliant turn from some of the cast.

The audience at my local cinema seemed to have quite a polarised opinion of the film. A few walked out during the screening, and a gentleman kept us all awake with his stereo snoring.

Peace and love,

Ja’far


June 17th 2012

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Filmwise:

Continuing to liaise with film festivals and distributors.

Final Draft

Many years ago, I had my first experience of writing a screenplay on the wonderful software that is Final Draft. Not only does it format the script to the industry standard in terms of tabs, font and upper and lower case letters, but it is a solid ally when one invariably embarks on yet another re-write. You see, as the script develops further and further, one begins to assign a number to each scene, so that production design, or the DoP, wouldn’t need to say, “the interior scene in the lead character’s kitchen, daylight, two characters and a bowl of Muesli”. They would simply say, scene 34.

However, in case the writer – usually on the prompting of the producer – decides that an extra scene is needed before scene 34, and therefore the new scene would acquire number 34, s/he wouldn’t need to spend an eternity tweaking the numbers of each and every scene that follow the new scene; Final Draft would take care of all that. This scenario, needless to say happens quite often, and it may be in the other direction – deleting scenes.

There is also the facility of printing out the scenes for any one character with a single click, rather than the whole script, thus allowing an actor to work on learning their lines – after having read the entire script, one would hope.

To cut a long story short, after a couple of years of not being able to transfer Final Draft from my old computer to the new machine, this week I was able to install it and start creating.

I imagine there is some sort of Pavlovian psychology at work here, for since returning to Final Draft, I feel I have begun to produce better scenes and dialogue…

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

June 10th 2012

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Filmwise: Following up on contacts made at Cannes.

This week, I put the finishing touches to the current cut of the Cannes documentary. The 30-minute (appx) documentary has evolved over the past couple of years; I hope it will have its premiere by the year’s end.

“Rom-Com!”

At the end of last week, I met a filmmaker who’d heard all about my romantic comedy project. Walking through Regents Street under shimmering lines of Union Jacks, I began to explain how I have been having second thoughts about how much priority to give the rom-com project. “Please don’t tell me you’re not doing the Rom-Com!”

After assuring her that the Rom-Com is very much still part of the “pipeline” of projects, I shared with her the stream of thoughts that has been gaining more credibility in the vision I have for the next few years as a filmmaker.

“It would be wonderful to tell a London-set story that would be blessed with the happy equilibrium of being rewarding for the soul of this dreamer, and is able to draw an audience.”

I am not sure if I persuaded her.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

Cannes Film Festival 2012 Part II

Monday, June 4th, 2012

With barely an hour of rest on the bed in my Nice hotel, after having stayed up all night in Cannes, I am back on the train from Nice to Cannes. I have a meeting at the film market.

I arrive with a couple of minutes to spare.

A Hungarian young lady is in charge of the reception desk of the production company’s market kiosk. While waiting for the top man to end the meeting that precedes mine, I start chatting with the Hungarian.

I am not sure how we start speaking about children – perhaps, I refer to Mesocafé as my baby. She surprises me, “if you were to get married, how many children would you like to have?”

In an attempt to startle her, “six!”

I succeed.

The earlier meeting ends and I am invited in.

The film executive from LA is clearly puzzled as to how someone with a film that doesn’t involve any guns and gangster wars has been invited to a meeting. The company, I realise as I sit down in the small office, is big on Rambo-wannabes.

Nevertheless, we both plough through the motions, with me talking about the film, its festival screenings and the labour of love that it is.

On the the way out, the Hungarian looks at me, and raises a hand showing four fingers.

“We’re down to four children!”

Rather than head back to Nice for some rest, I walk to the coffee counter sponsored by the most famous coffee brand.

While the young lady prepares my coffee, I study the uniform she wears along with her colleagues behind the counter. It is a dress that flows to her knees in unobstructed plains of black, with small golden pyramids creating a half-moon looking up from her neck to her face.

The coffee is delicious. I ask for a second.

With the rain outside, I find myself drawn to a queue at the Palais. I stand behind the last person and watch as one, then four, twenty and a hundred people queue behind me. The person ahead of me is a French lady in charge of a film club. The person directly behind me is a Swedish film blogger. Behind him is a young lady from the States. She works for a small festival in the West Coast. The blogger tells us how he’s just been only a few feet away from Brad Pitt. Noting our surprise, he produces his SLR camera and flicks  through the images of Mr Jolie. The two ladies are quietly impressed. He offers to email them a couple of the snaps.

The queue turns out to be for The Children of Sarajevo (Dir. Aida Begic, 2012). It is in the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the official selection.

I am touched by the simplicity of both the story and its telling.

At the end of the screening, I head back to the Market; Paul and I are attending a meeting with a French distributor.

We both pass the Hungarian. She shows three fingers.

I explain to Paul: “We’re down to three children!”

The meeting seems to go very well, and we both leave having left our business cards and a screener of Mesocafé.

The Hungarian looks at me and smiles mischievously. “We’re down to one child!”

Both Paul and I think, “The woman doesn’t want to commit!”

I join Paul, Daniel and Kate for a pizza.

It is a good copy of the wood-fire-oven version that I make a point of having whenever I am in Nice.

We walk towards the Palais. The gang head to the queue of a film screening at the Un Certain Regard cinema. The line is the longest I have seen at this cinema.

Paul shares with us a Cannes story that has me struggling to stay on my feet; it is hilarious.

As the barrier is lifted, the queue begins to morph into a human flood moving hurriedly towards the entrance. With only 20 or 30 people left ahead of Paul and the gang, the barrier is brought back down.

As we begin to leave the queue, I talk with a Columbian executive producer.

With a full half hour before the last train, I say goodnight.

The moment I turn the corner into the train station’s road, I sense there is something wrong.

All the lights are switched off at the station and the doors are chain-locked.

The train workers’ strike has struck again.

There are no busses to Nice at this hour. They are available only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

I walk back to La Croisette, past the Palais.

I join a group of people watching a film screening on the beach. It is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Dir. Peter R. Hunt, 1969). Along with other members of the audience, I feel I am watching the birth of a new Mr Bond on the big screen. It is at times clumsy and confused, but a birth it most certainly is.

The lack of sleep from the previous night begins to catch up with me. I struggle to stay awake when I find a street bench. However, I don’t find the idea of sleeping in the street that appealing.

I walk back past the Palais towards the castle overlooking the city. I climb the steep and winding street to the top. I am astonished by the ability of the tiny scooters to carry two people all the way up the hill.

At the top, I find a queue. I join it. It turns out to be a private event held at an opulent mansion overlooking the harbour below.

I find a bench and take to jotting down some ideas for my new feature film.

I take the 5:50 bus back to Nice.

The train strike means I miss out on a screening at the Grand Theatre that morning. I spend the day in Nice.

On my last day, I am back at Nice train station early in the morning. In the queue for the ticket office, I stand next to a French lady. She rests her feet whenever the line of people stops by a chair in the ticket hall.

“I am eighty seven years old!”

Where are you planning to go, I ask her.

“Le Mans.”

I recognise the place from its association with the motor race.

When I tell her that I live in London, tears rise in her eyes. “I have a daughter in England. I miss her so much.”

We chat until her turn comes. I bid her farewell, wishing her a reunion with her daughter.

A touching, fun and illuminating Cannes.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far