Tag: Samir

The festival circuit

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.

Liberace in Boulder (Best Festival Ever)

After Sundance Samir went to stay with his family, it was poignant moment, he met his wife for the first time in 5 years, they held each other, hugging and crying, very moving. The young Casanova felt like an old man now.. I left him there for 4 weeks came back to the UK.

We were reunited when I returned to show the film in Boulder, Colorado. Samir was a different man, he’d been groomed by his loving wife. She’d even cleaned all his fingernails and toe nails as well as groomed his ponytail. I thought he was maybe be going to reunite with her when his visa eventually come through. But no, he told me he’d been bored and was desperate to get back on the road with the film. He wanted to get away again, so we took to the air and landed in Boulder, a great Colorado town where we met the fabulous Beeck sisters. They are an amazing trio who make films together with fabulously supportive parents. The best hosts yet. We were received in splendour with a fine hotel, drinks and all, but no cigarettes, Samir nearly got a ticket for smoking in the street. Boulder is one of those clean US towns but the Beeck sisters made up for that, especially Robin who would nip away for crafty cigarettes whenever she got the chance. We developed an intimate relationship, like kids behind the school bike sheds smoking secretly.

The closing night was in a 850 seat theatre which was packed. There was an awards ceremony before the film, we were at the bar as usual casually watching the show not expecting to be part of it as our film hadn’t been screened yet… Then out of the blue we were called out and we were given an award of excellence. They played our film and Samir was taken back stage behind the screen to where a piano was hidden. Samir changed into a tuxedo and took his place at a grand piano, he was lit by a bright light from above, then, as the film finished, the screen rolled back to reveal him sitting there. The crowd cheered and he played for 30 minutes, it became a rock concert. I stood looking from the sidelines thinking of all the times he’d told me he wanted fame, recognition, in America; and here it was. I felt and proud and happy for Samir that my film had brought him a little closer to his dream.

The Liberace of Sheffield

“England’s a dying man.” Samir’s first words as he looks down the noisy Victoria Line train. We are heading to my house in Brixton. I’ve just picked him up from Heathrow airport.

After 12 long, hard, weeks slogging away at reams of rushes, juggling shots and sequences with the mighty editor of editors, Mr Ollie Huddleston, I have finally finished the film and am premiering it at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (SIDF). The edit was easier than usual, me and Ollie somehow found the film quite quickly. It is thanks to help from friends like Johnny Burke who spent a couple of weeks with me viewing the 100 odd tapes and talking over what it was we wanted, liked and loved with Samir.

It is so strange to see Samir again, and to see him in England. He looks so disappointed. “You know Sean, we are so lucky in Iraq aren’t we?” Samir is looking round the crammed tube. Glum faces stare back at him aimlessly. Samir spots a young girl and his face lights up. We pull into Brixton and join the mad rush off the train, before long we are pushing and heaving to get onto the number 2 bus. No seats. We prop each other up. At home Samir is exhausted, out of breath, looking for a cigarette. “No smoking in the house” I point out. He looks at me and smiles, “Sean, if I die here in England, please make sure you get my body back to my family in Baghdad.”

He stands shivering on my cold English doorstep drawing on his fag looking down the street. I watch him thinking for a moment. It is difficult to imagine that Samir had driven past Fallujah a day earlier, missing the American attack on the city by a few hours. He has no idea that tomorrow at the World Premiere of the film in Sheffield he will be Liberace for the day. The Liberace of Sheffield is on his way.


Samir is driving home. “Look at the roads ripped apart by the tanks. Iraq is destroyed.” We drove along the airport road. “See, they cut all the date trees because the resistance would ambush the Americans here. Now look, this beautiful park area is used for dumping rubbish. See what Iraqi’s have become, they would not have dared do this under Saddam.”

We arrive at Samir’s home. There is no electricity, Samir is sweating. The generator, which he pays 15,000 Iraq dinar each month for, cannot power the air conditioning. Tempers fray very easy in this heat. Samir can take it no more. “Let us go to your hotel I cannot stand this heat. Fucking Americans!! What have they been doing here for 15 months? Saddam had the electricity sorted in 3 months after the 91 war!” Sweat drips from me as I film Samir. After 8 months with him I dare not offer my lame excuses, ‘Reconstruction takes time…’ I realise now, that these clichés are of no help to those who are here, now, living in this hell.

Samir pulls on his shoes. “People ask me why are you going to the States? Iraq will be full of opportunities… When??? This is why I’m going.. This country will never be right… They’ve ruined it… I told you Sean.. The only people who can re build Iraq are Iraqi’s.”

As we drive to my hotel I notice that the fuel queues are longer than ever. Definitely longer than they were 8 months ago when I arrived. I cannot answer the simple question of Why? Why are people still queuing for fuel in a land built on petrol? Why are people still waiting for electricity in the second summer since the Americans ‘liberated’ Iraq?

We get back to my hotel and see ‘some building… some construction…’ We watch workers building a new accommodation block. We discover it is for private Iraqi security guards. “Good news that Iraqi’s are finally being employed” Samir remarks, “They will make the best security here.” They are being hand picked from the West of Iraq, mainly Sunni’s from Tikrit and Ramadi. They are all ex Captains and Officers, they are coming here to look after the many Western companies with their construction contracts to rebuild Iraq.

“Look this is a dream come true for them. $800 a month, a place to sleep and the best food. Under Saddam they were paid $3 a month, and many haven’t worked since then.” I’m not so sure about the nature of the work though, “Think of the risk, they could be killed at anytime” I point out. Samir smiles, “This is why we are the best security guards in the world, Iraqi’s believe that their time is written by God, so they walk fearless.”

And at $800 a month they are good value. Their Western counterparts charge $800 a day.