I was at the wonderful ‘One World Festival’ in Prague last weekend, it was great to see how big it has grown since my film ‘Settlers’ opened it in 2000. Sadly on my arrival I got an email from Samir (from my film ‘The Liberace of Baghdad’), he is now living in USA but wrote to say he has prostate cancer and will soon be undergoing 42 days of radiation treatment. That evening I sat by the grand piano in the foyer of the beautiful 1930s cinema and missed him dearly. I was in Prague to show my latest film ‘Japan; A Story Of Love And Hate’, the cinema was packed and it was voted the 4th favourite film by the audience the next day. Not bad out of 300 films.
Today I arrived in Porto, Portugal, and I am heading to small village festival (with my Japan film) just over the border in Spain. A place called Tui. But no-one has come to meet me, so I am on a bus trying to make my own way there.
I am getting flash-backs to the time I showed a film here, in 1998(?), I was with with Kev from ‘Working For the Enemy’ no-one showed up to meet us and no one came to see the film.
But, I tell myself, this festival is over the border in Spain… I just hope there is an audience at tonight’s 22:30 showing of my film – Mind you I don’t even know if I will be there yet.
Latest news in brief – Samir was over in Europe taking part in a piano festival in Paris. After this he came to stay at my house in Brixton for a month, during which time ‘Liberace of Baghdad’ won Special Jury Prize at the It’s All True Film Fest in Brazil and a Special Jury Prize at the Chicago doc fest. I choose to attend DocAviv Film Fest in Tel Aviv where the film was in competition – one of 10 films selected out of 300. I did a masterclass on my approach to doc film making, and met up with some old ‘war mates’ – journos from Baghdad. Samir was too afraid to attend though, he is worried about going back to Baghdad after being in the West for over 4 months, if news got out that he’d been to Israel he could become a target.
Back in the UK Samir played a small concert in the bar at my local cinema.. The Ritzy in Brixton, London. My agents PFD had kindly donated money for the hire of a Baby grand. The evening was sold-out and a great success. The next day we headed up north to my hometown, Hull, where the film was playing in a small art house. We were met by local TV camera’s filming our visit, we travelled on Hull Trains who had kindly sponsored my trip home. First stop was fish and chips for the t.v cameras, though Samir could not understand how fried potatoes could be eaten with fish!! We did a question and answer session with a keen audience after the film and watched ourselves on local telly. Although going for a pint in The Minerva Pub with my dad proved difficult and embarrassing – we suddenly appeared on the telly to the amusement of the whole pub. They all cheered “See ya later Liberace!” as we left.
It was back to London and the big goodbyes again. The goodbyes, that are normal for Samir’s family, split between Iraq and America, have become the same for us now. Each time he leaves it is from the same terminal at Heathrow, he cries worried we will never meet again. I know we always will. Then I go to Dublin with the film, and then onto Prague’s Oneworld festival where a I discover the young woman programmer with strange PC tastes almost barred Liberace of Baghdad from the fest because they saw Samir as a chauvinist! new forms of censorship rise from former communist states it seems! What misjudgments, someone who has really missed what Samir was showing them. Instead of being offended this woman should have felt privileged to have an insight to this man’s world, bearing himself honest and open with all his human imperfections.
Well at least the beer is always good in Prague, even if the beautiful city has been destroyed by British/Irish groups over there on sex/beer trips. Reminds me why I find the Middle East so attractive and what I hate about my homeland.
I am now in and out of meetings with ‘Working Titles’ Eric Fellner (Europe’s biggest producer), and Jana Bennet Director of Programmes at BBC along with various people at the Film Council about my next ventures. I’m looking at raising money for a film in Japan and /or Ethiopia as well as plodding along endlessly with my drama project that has been on the go for 3 years with BBC Films. Watch this space!