Archive for September, 2012

September 30th 2012

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Filmwise: With only a few hours of editing per a week on the Cannes documentary, getting a momentum going is proving to be a challenge. As ever, must persevere.

“He’s behind you!”

With two days to go before the first anniversary of the world premiere of Mesocafé at the Raindance Film Festival, it was a walk down – recent – memory lane this weekend. For the new 2012 edition of the festival was launched last Wednesday. In fact, I happened to be in the area and walked past the Cineworld Haymarket where the opening gala of the festival normally takes place.

Apollo Cinema ext 2

My first taste of this year’s festival had to wait until Saturday; I had booked a ticket to see The Salesman (Dir. Sebastien Pilote, Canada 2011).

On arriving at the Apollo Cinema, off Piccadilly Circus, I was greeted by a couple of familiar faces from the cinema staff. The young lady behind the counter was among the team members who sold me an extra ticket for Mesocafé last year.

The screening was at cinema No. 5, right next to No. 4 where our film was shown.

The Salesman was superb in its studied pace, allowing the lead character to grow along with our empathy for him. The ending was quite moving.

On the way out, I bumped into a young lady whom I’d met through a dear friend. “What are you doing here?”, I asked just as I noticed her festival uniform.

“I am volunteering.”

As I was talking with her, Elliot Grove, festival founder, was approaching en route to cinema No. 5. We shook hands and I congratulated him on nurturing the festival to its 20th birthday.

“I just spent ten minutes chatting with Jeremy Irons!”

“Where is he?”

“He’s on the way.”

After Elliot went into the cinema, I asked the young volunteer by the door if Mr Irons was attending a screening.
“Yes – ‘Trashed’”.

I bid my friend farewell and headed upstairs.

At the box office, the young lady behind the counter informed me that the screening was sold out.

Waiting by the box office, I met Julian, a senior member of the festival team. He asked a colleague to take my picture with the festival logo. “It will be on Raindance TV.”

I also said hello to Marion, who was in charge of film traffic at last year’s festival. She has taken up a new position in the team for this year’s edition.

Just as Marion was deliberating ticket allocations with Julian, I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to announce to the box office young lady that I was waiting to get a ticket for Trashed, on the off chance that there might be a returned ticket.

“Oh, the woman over there has a spare ticket!”

Hurrying over to the well attired lady across the foyer, I mumbled something to the effect that if she happens to have an extra ticket, I am buying!.

“You can have it!”

I was speechless before such a sweet gesture.

As we got talking, it transpired that the lady, Catherine, and her husband, Terence Brady, were the parents of Candida Brady, the director of Trashed. Brilliant.

With half an hour remaining before the start of the film, it seemed like an opportune moment to acquire some sustenance from the supermarket next door.

Munching a sandwich and looking through shop windows on Jermyn Street, my attention was drawn to the sight of a distinguished looking, and vaguely familiar, gentleman walking in my direction. He was startled away from the screen of his smart phone by a car that abruptly came to a halt as he crossed a side street.

“Oh, sorry!”

It was Stephen Fry.

I wondered whether he was Tweeting!

Back at the Apollo, I started a conversation with a couple who were descending the stairs from the box office to the basement. “Are you also going to see Trashed?”

As the young woman affably explained how she was a friend of friend of someone in the film crew, she suddenly paused and looked at her male partner. It took her friend a few beats before finally deciphering the look she, and me, were giving him: he was blocking the path of Jeremy Irons on the stairs.

At the screening, Elliot introduced the film and invited both the director and the star to the stage.

I was impressed by the amount of work that must have gone into shooting, editing and producing a festival print for this film about the environment. The locations, the cinematography, the graphics, the sound design. Great work.

The Q&A session was interesting, especially in view of the presence among the audience of one or two authorities on the topic.

Happy 20th Birthday Raindance.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

September 23rd 2012

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Filmwise: A bit more work on the Cannes documentary.

“I will email you!”

Back in 2007, when I had pushed back the shoot of Mesocafé to the summer of 2008 – a date which itself was pushed further back to November of that year, I had met Noreen Abu Oun, the Executive Director of the Arab British Centre. Ever since then, we have kept in touch, me following the activities of the ABC and she the progress of our film.

On Friday evening, a few months after the fifth anniversary of our introduction, I had the pleasure of attending the launch reception of Safar, a journey through popular Arab Cinema at the ICA. The festival is organised by ABC, in conjunction with the Dubai Film Festival.

It had been so long since I’d last met Noreen that it took me a couple of beats to recognise her standing behind the desk for invitees.

As I walked through the long corridor with white gallery-like walls towards the café, I noticed a few familiar faces from the world of film and TV. The corridor opened onto a hall that was filled with people getting ready to head to the cinema.

In the very first group I passed, I recognised another friendly face from 2007. I had met Dana K. Trometer through a mutual friend, and we’d held a meeting about Mesocafé.

As luck would have, Dana turned out to be the editor of the opening night film, Bosta (Dir. Philippe Aractingi, Lebanon 2005).

Trooping back through the white painted corridor with all the attendees, I had an Annie Hall moment, when my legs seemed to leave me behind. My eyes had rested upon a familiar face seated on the shelf-shaped benches lining the wall.

For years now, I have been following the work of this film journalist and festival organiser; many a festival I have attended through her coverage.

Seeing her in the middle of a conversation, I rejoined my legs and entered the auditorium.

The director spoke about the film and how it captured a moment in the history of Lebanon that is so recent and yet so different. Dana related her story with the film and how the director had asked her to move back to Lebanon from London to edit the film. “As soon as I got there, the prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri was assassinated. The situation was so tense that I couldn’t leave the office.”

We were gripped with her story.

“So, you can say that I completed the editing of this film out of fear of going out!”

We all laughed.

The screening went well. I emapathised with the director, watching him stand by the door to see his work through the eyes of the audience.

Being one of the usual suspects that stay behind at the end of the film to watch the credits, I was among the last people in the auditorium when the lights went back on. As I turned to face the door, the very young lady of the corridor was right before me.

I introduced myself and told her how much I loved her work.

On hearing about Mesocafé, and how long it has taken me to complete it, she said firmly, “I want to see your film. I am going to email you and ask to see your film!”

On Saturday, I was back at the ICA to watch “Khalli Balak Min Zouzou / Watch Out For Zouzou (Dir. Hassan al-Imam, Egypt 1971). The legendary Egyptian star Hussein Fahmy had travelled to London in order to present the film. He regaled us with stories about the making of the film, how he came to be cast for the lead role opposite the sublime Su’ad Husni (the Cinderella of Arab Cinema), and how the famous song “Ya Wad Ya Te’eel! / You Play It So Cool!” came about.

He also explained the reasons for the absence of a good 35mm print of the film. “The negative was taken out of Egypt illegally, and all we have now are prints that are copies of prints.”

Despite the scratched print, it was a truly joyous experience being granted the opportunity to watch this box office hit on the big screen.

I leave you with “Ya Wad Ya Te’eel! / You Play It So Cool!” from Khalli Balak Min Zouzou (Egypt 1971).

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

September 16th 2012

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Filmwise: Work on the Cannes documentary continues. All good.

“Very nice people!”

With London having been intermittently touched with the chill of autumn over the past week, this seemed to be a good time to get my inclement weather jacket some TLC. So, on Saturday I neatly folded the said garment, along with a pair of trousers, into my rucksack and headed to the dry cleaners. I hadn’t visited the establishment before, but had made a mental note of its working hours – I would be able to collect after work.

En route, with my mind buzzing after a particularly fruitful editing session, I was taken aback by the sight of a man walking around his car with a splendidly colourful parrot resting on his shoulder. On closer inspection, the bird was no toy; it was around a foot-and-a-half high exotic creature that seemed oblivious to all the curiosity it was engendering amongst passers-by.

Fearing that I might be late, I hurried away from this delightful sight, heading to the dry cleaners.

On entering the store, the gentleman behind the counter was in the middle of explaining to a customer the reason why his shirt was not ready.

“They didn’t want to damage the fabric. It will be ready on Monday. The man who will be here will know about this.”

Exit customer.

“Hello, what can I do for you?”

I handed him my jacket and pair of trousers.

The lines that protruded through the camouflage of his grey beard told of a former life that was no bed of roses. Hardship and thrift were inscribed in every sinew of the man’s existance.

He expertly attached the stickers to the lining of the jacket and to the inside pocket of the trousers.

Pressing a couple of buttons on the till unleashed a surprisingly large figure on the screen. Noticing my obvious shock at the steep prices:

“That’s why it’s better to wash the clothes at home!”

I shook my head with incredulity.

“Your name, please!”

I spelt it for him.

“Where do you come from?”

I was now aware of his very strong Eastern European accent. Not quite Polish or Russian though.

Bracing myself for a thousand and one possible speeches revolving around the history of my motherland and her tumultuous present, I replied, “originally, I am from Iraq.”

“You have all that petrol, and yet you complain about the prices here!”

He shook his head.

I tried to explain that Iraq’s revenue from selling its natural resources isn’t deposited into my bank account at the end of each month, but the man was on a roll.

“All this blood in your country after Saddam Hussein, I think maybe he was better, no?”

This was a rhetorical question.

“After Saddam, you fought with each other. The two dogs from the same country were fighting while the wolf from outside came and took the petrol for a few pence!”

The image he drew had an echo from the depths of time.

“You think the prices are high, but English people don’t because they can pay after taking your petrol for a few pence!”

I wasn’t sure how we ended up at Post-Colonialism 101, but I didn’t wish to interrupt the man’s stream of consciousness.

“You see that big shop across the street?”

I looked through the shop window.

“It is owned by Iraqis. They came here maybe just before the war. They took out the money.”

He made a gesture with his right hand, as if throwing something over a fence.

“Very nice people, but what they did in the past… I don’t know!”

He showed me both his palms.

The arrival of a new customer disconcerted me; I was completely mesmerised by the man’s self-assured view of the universe.

On the way to my local cinema, I had to stop and look behind me to be certain that I wasn’t just imagining yet another man walking around with a bird on his shoulder. Indeed, this gentleman also had a bird resting on his shoulder, but this was no parrot. It was a rubber toy black crow that shook as he walked. I wondered to myself, “is there some sort of a Long John Silver convention taking place nearby? If so, was the chap with the crow making some sort of a statement?”

At the cinema, I watched To Rome With Love (Dir. Woody Allen, 2012). I loved the ease with which the film wove a narrative from the concurrent and overlapping story threads. It was particularly nice to see Mr Allen back on the screen playing his neurotic persona. The participation of the Italian maestro Roberto Benigni was a huge bonus.

After the screening, a young lady confided to the cinema manager her displeasure with the film: “I think he should just retire, because he keeps telling the same stories again and again.”

As I walked home, I wondered what the man from the dry cleaners would say?

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

September 9th 2012

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Filmwise: Rethinking the structure of the Cannes documentary.

“An accident”

“All I need is a note from the doctor!”, shouts the man in tracksuit bottoms, a jacket too heavy and dark for the glorious day outside, and a standard issue four-day stubble to go with his just-fallen-out-of-bed appearance.

“There is a queuing system, sir”, the softly spoken middle-aged receptionist says. She clearly has had to deal with far worse clients.

Her patient and polite manner seems to subdue the man long enough for me to introduce myself.

I am asked to wait to be called into an adjoining room.

Reading my name from a white sheet of paper, the Asian nurse invites me into the small room.

“Just a minute, please; I need to find your form.”

She leafs through a big stack of forms. My name pops up.

“OK, four!”

She takes four little tubes from different boxes on a shelf hanging over my seat.

The sight of the needle makes me more talkative than my usual pre-breakfast self.

“How did you become a nurse?”

The young lady seems completely at ease with what is, in retrospect, quite a direct query.

“In fact, it was an accident. Back home in Sri Lanka I was waiting to apply to go to university when I saw my two sisters busy filling the forms for the nursing college. So, I completed a form too, just as a bit of fun.”

The needle barely makes a sting as it enters my vein.

“I went to the college interview and they were very nice with me.”

The first tube rapidly fills with blood. She expertly yanks it off the needle, secures it with a cap and inserts the back-end of the needle into a second tube.

“Later, they wrote to me and said they can’t allow me to join the college because of my age. I was six months too young.”

The third tube.

“After six months, they got in touch and said they are happy to take me.”

The fourth tube.

“I wasn’t sure what to do. Go to this nursing college or wait for university. So my father advised me and said, ‘this is a good profession, as wherever you go, people will need nurses!”

Yanking the fourth tube off the needle, she smiles, “so, it is my father who is the reason why I am here today!”

I thank her for a pain-free blood test.

En route to the door, I find the man who’d shouted earlier sulking in a corner as the GP surgery goes about its daily routine.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far

September 2nd 2012

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Filmwise: I have had a eureka moment or two about the Cannes documentary. Yet again, the extended delay in post-production is helping produce a more imaginative edit.

Women lead the way…

It was back in 2001 when I first met the Palestinian-American director Annemarie Jacir. It was at the Arab Screen Independent Film Festival in Qatar. I had joined the organising team earlier in the year after my first short film, A Two Hour Delay (B/W 16mm, 2000) was accepted to appear out of competition at this platform for indie documentaries and shorts.

As is the rule with film festivals, those working for the festival are the least likely to experience the festival; they are forever dealing with one mini crisis or another. And so, the first opportunity to chat with Annemarie presented itself on a shuttle-bus journey between festival venues. We talked about her short film, The Satellite Shooters (Palestine, 2001), and how she got into filmmaking.

Seven years later, her debut feature The Salt of This Sea (Palestine/USA/France/UK, 2008) premiered in the Un Certain Regard selection of the Cannes Film Festival. As readers of this blog may recall, despite my best efforts I wasn’t able to watch the film at the festival. I got to see it here in London. A moving story.

And now, eleven years after our first meeting, Annemarie’s second feature, When I Saw You (Jordan-Palestine 2012) is to premiere in competition at the Toronto International Film Festival. I have been following the journey of the film through pre-production, the shoot and post. Overjoyed for Annemarie.

At the same festival in Qatar, I met the Lebanses-American director Rola Nashef whose feature debut Detroit Unleaded (USA 2012) will also screen at Toronto as part of the festival’s official selection. Love the trailer.

Crossing the pond back to Europe, the Saudi director Haifa al-Mansour is making history by being the first Saudi, and the first Saudi woman, to have a feature film (Wadjda) screen as part of the official selection of the great Venice Film Festival. A review of Wadjda (Saudi Arabia – Germany 2012).

Also at Venice, the sublime Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas is premiering her directorial debut with Inheritance, and the Tunisian director Hinde Boujemaa presents It Was Better Tomorrow (Tunisia 2012).


Indeed, women lead the way.

Peace and love,

Ja‘far