Archive for October, 2013

October 27th 2013

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Filmwise: Continuing to prepare the groundwork for penning the fifth draft of the little girl in Baghdad screenplay. Need to take the remainder of my annual leave to have a few days’ writing momentum. Still on track for completing the draft by the end of November.

Transport scenes (continued):
On the way home on Friday, I was nudged out of my usual London Underground state of being – you know, free sheet in one hand, umbrella and book in the other, and looking ahead with very soft focus – by a group of young men and women handing out leaflets inside the barrier area.
“Travel survey, sir!”
Quite a few commuters seemed to associate the inside-the-barriers location of these boys and girls with officialdom; so, they either ignored them, or took an interest out of curiosity.
I was of the second variety.
Book, umbrella, free sheet in one hand, and travel survey and accompany stamped envelop in the other, I parked my feet on the escalator.
At the bottom, there was an accumulating archive of the very travel survey and accompanying stamped envelopes that I was perusing.
The lady in charge of cleaning the station was not amused. On noticing her displeasure, the youngman charged with clearing the mess at the bottom of the escalators attempted to be as professional as his youth would allow: “I am doing my best”, he said apologetically.
Peace and love,
Ja’far

October 20th 2013

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Filmwise: Preparing the groundwork for penning the fifth draft of the little girl in Baghdad screenplay. Would like to have it done by the end of November.

The Cannes documentary: After some thought about the structure, I feel I have been through a 360 degree journey of options and narrative trajectories. I am back to the original starting point of the piece. Glad to have explored other avenues. In December, will use the breathing time of the fifth draft of the screenplay to work on the documentary. All good.
A presence…
As part of the London Film Festival, I attended the UK premiere of La Maison De La Radio (Dir. Nicolas Philibert, France 2013) on Wednesday evening.
The film covers a virtual 24 hours in the life of Radio France, starting with the early morning news programme and ending with the final preparations for the same show the next morning.
After the screening, the director explained that the 24 hours were covered in sixty days over the course of six months. Amazingly, despite the being on location for such an extended number of shooting days, Mr Philibert’s total of rushes for the documentary was a mere 100 hours.
It is amazing, not only because the temptation is to film and film footage to avoid heartbreak in the edit suite, but also because the events that occurred during filming included earthquakes, murder hunts and the Arab Spring.
I wasn’t after a news story, for I am making a film, and not a news report, explained Mr Philibert. “Today’s news is no longer of interest tomorrow, and I knew that my film would not be ready for at least a year. So, we couldn’t follow the news events that were covered by the radio station during filming.”
More interestingly, he added that he was interested in the “presence of the people” he filmed rather than their stories. This was evident in the lack of any narrative threads following the lives or interests of the journalists, producers, actors, programme guests and members of the public that feature in the film. Most of the time, we don’t know the name or the exact job title of those filmed going about their work.
As a viewer, I went along with the rationale of the work, and thoroughly enjoyed the piece.
The experience made me wish to go back and watch the first Mr Philibert film I saw, Etre et Avoir.
Peace and love,
Ja’far

October 13th 2013

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Filmwise: Spent some time with the Cannes documentary. I need to get back to the script of the little girl in Baghdad story soon.

May in the Summer

A few years ago, I was at the Young Vic for a play from Palestine. In addition to the great reviews it had received, the piece also boasted a number of the best known Palestinian actors on the world cinema scene.

Among the actors was Yussef Abu-Warda. He had played a main role in Amreeka (Dir. Cherien Dabis, 2009), a quirky comedy about being a Palestinian immigrant in a small town in Indiana.

After the show, we had chatted about the film and about its writer-director Cherien Dabis.

Thanks to the BFI London Film Festival this weekend, I was able to meet Ms. Dabis, and watch her second feature, May in the Summer (2013).

Having opened the international section of Sundance this year, and won over audiences and critics alike, I was thrilled to finally watch the film.

As was discussed in the Q&A session after the screening, I was among many in the audience who were in awe of the epic undertaking that Ms. Dabis achieved in making the film – not only did she write, direct and produce, she also starred in the film. Kudos.

On the surface, this is the story of the young Arab American woman May returning to her mother’s country of birth Jordan, engaged and with a wedding to plan. However, as the director pointed out, it is also a meditation on reverse migration – on Arab Americans returning to the old country, and finding themselves at various levels of discord or loss with the local culture and people.

For me, the best scenes were those in which May and her two sisters (played by Nadine Malouf and Alia Shawkat) reveled in sibling banter and rivalry.

The presence of Hiam Abbass, the go-to lady for strong motherly figures, made this one of the better casts I have seen this year.

Also among the talent was Nasri Sayegh, who plays Yusif in Mesocafé.

Can’t wait for the third feature from Ms. Dabis.

Peace and love,

Ja’far

October 6th 2013

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Filmwise: Jotting down ideas for a project about a group of kids in 1970s Baghdad. Exciting times.

“She’s the director!”
One of the joys of Autumn in London is the return of the Raindance Film Festival.
Long before having my film’s world premiere at the festival in 2011, and even before volunteering as a programming assistant back in 2006, I have  been a follower of the festival and the institution. I admire the organisers’ persistence and tenacity in nurturing this showcase for the type of indie cinema that would struggle to be selected at the more “establishment” festivals in the country, competing as they would be with bigger budget films, and works that may have done well at big festivals.
So, on Monday afternoon I was particularly grateful to an IT glitch at work that had me make an early afternoon journey to the West End.
At the Vue Cinema Piccadilly, I was greeted with the youthful faces manning the festival reception desk.
Checking the time, it was 15:58. A screening was to commence imminently.
Not knowing anything about the film, I thought, let’s take a gamble.
At the box office, my attention was drawn away from the timetable screen by the sight of an elegant and tall young lady in red shoes.
Going by her rushed-off-her-feet-trying-to-do-a-thousand-things state, I had a feeling that she was a filmmaker. She reminded me of myself on the day of the premiere – trying to sort out the tickets, while thinking of the projectionist waiting for me for the rehearsal screening, and texting friends and cast members directions to the cinema.
“Can I leave these with you, please; I have a film to present in a minute!”, she said, as she handed the box office chap her credit card and a couple of tickets.
As she disappeared down the stairs to the screen, I asked the man:
“There is a film starting at four; are there any places left?”
“Yes, that was the director!”
The film turned out to be Pervertere (Dir. Brian McGuire, USA 2012), and the lady at the box office was one of its leads.
The film made me think of how the whole language of cinema and even the very premise of what is cinema are being reassessed. The American indie scene which has Greta Gerwig, among others, as its pole-bearer has used the new filmmaking possibilities and tools to tell stories that have a far more meandering, literary, character-driven composition.
I suppose, this is the sort of cinema that Jim Jarmusch was attempting in his early work – Stranger Than Paradise (1984), or Hal Hartley in The Unbelievable Truth (1989), or Richard Linklater in Slacker (1991).
What follows here is not meant to be a negative, but a mere observation about Pervetere and other films made by this new wave of ultra low budget American indie filmmakers: The simple set-ups, (e.g. the two-shot of the back of the driver and passenger en route to a house), the lack of time to “dress” a location to feel lived in, the telegraphed cartoonish performances of the non-featured characters, and the soundtrack music… all were reminiscent of the way in which links between sex scenes were filmed in 1970s porn.
Again, this is a commentary on the filmmaking choices, as opposed to the subtrance of the film which I enjoyed.
Welcome back Raindance.
Peace and love,
Ja’far