Tag: Dubai

It’s only Television

Before I returned to England a couple of weeks ago I made a trip to meet with someone whom I hoped would be an interesting character for a film I wanted to make. I didn’t mention anything about him in my blog because I wasn’t sure. When can we ever be sure for sure?

A few hours before I was due to leave I took a rental car into the Syrian countryside and went to meet him, and managed to film a little taster-piece for the BBC. I hadn’t got around to telling them that my previous film with Nizam had fallen through, I was worried that they may see me as being rather unreliable over these last few unproductive years.

How the years pass. It seems such a long ago since I finished the Japan film; and everything since then… it all feels like a series of failures.

Failed projects in South Africa that the BBC didn’t want, films the BBC did want in Dubai that I didn’t want to do but still gave (virtually unfunded) the best part of a year to trying to make work followed by a year and a half finding, and eventually failing to make, a film in Norway and Syria with Nizam.

I remember NHK my Japanese co-broadcaster offering me 100k for an idea I’d written about Damascus. But the BBC said they wanted Dubai. In my niceness I tried to persuade NHK to put their money to a more worthy cause – a far more popular film set in Dubai for (and backed by) the BBC.

And so I went to Dubai and over two trips lasting a few months found myself dying inside. Lost and without direction, the evenings became nothing more than a series of blurred bar scenes, I wanted to lose all my sensibilities and completely withdraw from that plastic nightmare hell-hole.

So I found myself migrating from Dubai to Damascus to meet with Nizam again; which began yet another mistaken adventure. But by this time the BBC had begun to show some interest in Libya, and, as Nizam was half-Libyan, his story would fit the bill. In the end they commissioned a story half-set in Syria and Libya. But a year and a half had passed since I’d tried to persuade the Japanese away from Damascus towards Dubai and now here I was again trying to persuade them (NHK) away from Dubai and back to Syria with a little bit of Libya thrown in too.

Two years after their original 100k offer we meet at the prestigious Yamagata Film festival where my Japan film picks up two awards. I sense awkwardness in the NHK Commissioning Editor, something had changed and I wasn’t sure what, and in true (non-confrontational) Japanese spirit nothing is said. He takes my Nizam trailer and promises to submit it, 6 months later he finally submits it but by now rumours emerge that he is being moved to a new department and my project with Nizam is falling through. Could it be that I spent too much time fund-raising and not enough time filming?

And so it was, in the final hours of my time in Syria that I found myself making an impromptu trip into the Syrian countryside to find a new character. The BBC like him but they can only offer a small budget to make it and suggest NHK to co-fund it.

But it is now 2 and a half years on since their offer of 100k for a film in Damascus – money I couldn’t accept because the BBC wanted a film in Dubai – and things have changed, my man at NHK has moved departments and it seems the money is no longer there.

The motto of the story is never refuse money from TV!! Lie and cheat and tell them whatever it is they want to hear but never never ever refuse their offer of money, because, in TV, as with life, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

The Window Cleaner

I am sat in a cafe in Brighton watching a window-cleaner wash down a dirty shop front. He has my complete attention, I watch his every wipe, each delicate stroke caressing the shop front, his vigorous scrubbing and mopping before finally rinsing down and brushing the street of any excess water. It is an art form and he is the artist.

Cleaning has become my obsession (along with cooking) whilst I am lost between films.

I sip on the Caffè macchiato in front of me, it is a short espresso with a dash of hot milk on top. I stare out of the window and take in the sun, my mind drifts to Damascus and the fantastic Costa coffee macchiato I first tasted there… why is it so much better than this one here in Brighton I ask myself?

But apprehension about my next trip is never far away, and I do anything to take my mind off it, opening too many wine bottles at home or propping up the local Weatherspoons bar or cooking curries and, of course, cleaning up.

I must go jogging. The thought reminds me of Dubai and a film I didn’t make. Was it the thing to do… To walk away?

In Dubai I was jogging everyday to try and escape the depression of living in hell.

But now, as another year has passed and I have nothing to show for it, I start to wonder if I should have stuck it out in Dubai. Part of me worries that there is no story in Syria, I mean a big story like there clearly would have been in Dubai.

Now that Nizam has set himself free to live his life without my camera recording his every move I am searching for a new soul-buddy, for a new obsession, for a new love.

The shop across the road is shining, its beauty lifts my day. The artist stands proud, wiping his brow and brushes, the shop owner brings his wife and daughter to view the finished work, everyone is smiling, everyone is happy.

I finish my coffee and head for the station, but as I walk I cannot stop myself looking over my shoulder again and again unable to take my eyes off the wonderful work of art which is shining magnificently in the midday Brighton sun.

Looking for a film – Dubai

Coming back to Dubai was a big thing for me. I was last here in September 2008 looking a film for the BBC. Then this place was still booming, now it feels like it is on the brink of going bust. My cab driver from the airport was moaning that he had only had 3 jobs in 4 hours. Crazy on a Friday night. He’s thinking of leaving and going back to his family in Egypt. After 14 years in Dubai he says he’s never seen it so bad, as I get out of the cab he whispers “Dubai is finished”.

Maybe that’s my story.

I check into my cheap dilapidated Indian-run hotel near the creek in old Dubai. Yes there still is an old dirty run down area in bright shiny new Dubai. I feel at home here. The hotel reminds me of the one I had in Baghdad 2004… but without the danger. Well, without any obvious danger.

The hotel manager shows me 7 hidden cameras in the run-down foyer, they are there for my safety he insists. “But this is the safest place in the Middle East” I tell him, “Yes” he replies, “It is safe BECAUSE I have my cameras”. He also makes it very clear that I cannot have ‘guests’ in my room. In other words the female hookers who work hard at pleasing the ex-pats and tourists that litter Dubai by night.

The manager tells me that some hotels here are down to 20% occupancy. Tourism is down and much of the major construction has stopped or been put on hold. Later I meet Ray and Sarah in a sports bar, they tell me the credit-crunch has hit Dubai big style. Many ex-pats they know have lost their jobs in the last 2 weeks, some have huge financial commitments having paid 12 months rent up-front whilst others are panicking because they have expenses such as their kids schooling fees to find. They said each week hordes of ex-pats are leaving, often to escape the massive debts they have run-up. Easy-credit means many people have been living far beyond their means.

And for the non-western labourers housed in the dense labour camps on the outskirts of Dubai life is even tougher on wages of £4 a day, from which they still manage to send money home. At least their squalid accommodation packed 10 to a room for 11 months a year is free!

This reality is far from the Dubai dream Piers Morgan created in his fantasy ITV documentary last week. The guys in the bar were fuming when they saw it. They were pushing me to make my film here, to show the world what it was really like. If truth be told this place and everything it represents is ugly. But I don’t want to simply confirm that in a film, there has to be more to my documentary if I am to make one here, and, as always, I need to find the right person.

This morning I woke to the call for prayer, I opened my door and stepped onto my balcony, down below was the noise from the bustling street, textile shops everywhere, a very Indian scene, I felt happy to be here, an oasis, my refuge from the huge shiny buildings that are the new DubaiI leave my hotel and stroll through what could have been Delhi to my favourite humus restaurant on the creek, which is where I write this now, in between watching the water-taxis pass by.

Today I hope to meet Roberto or Marina or Ray who will hopefully lead me to the guy I am looking for… But, if I am honest, he still feels a long long way away.