Tag: Sundance


Another Adventure

Another 12 hour flight seems about right to set me off on another film adventure. It’s almost 2 years to the day that I set off to Baghdad taking that dangerous unknown road.

But the results have been rewarding, the film The Liberace of Baghdad won several international awards including Special Jury Prize at Sundance, in Chicago and San Paolo and Best Documentary Award at the British Independent Film Awards. Such accolades haven’t helped sales though! – having re-mortgaged my house to make the film I’m still waiting for the film to sell one year on.

I always need time and space before moving onto a new film. For me the experience is all-encompassing and this can drive you crazy. If indeed you are not already crazy. Something I question more and more as I grow older and more stupid. My last film took me to Iraq for 8 months at its most dangerous watching friends being killed and kidnapped around me.

In many ways I feel I have been trying to overcome this. The unpredictable situation that developed around me, the dangers, the deaths and the kidnappings remain vivid in my mind as I think back to my time in Iraq. I wake up in cold sweats looking back at different things of could have been, I think of friends killed 28 year old Marla a passionate aid worker and others kidnapped.

Then I get positive and think it is time to move on!! To open a new chapter in my life, to try and close this last one. It is time to make a new film. I decide on Japan, why? Well because for me it has very interesting issues of freedom and reminds me oddly enough of Saddam’s Iraq. Just in terms of how people are told to think and operate out of loyalty.

So here I am two years on heading over to Japan. After making a film in the worlds most dangerous place I’m heading to the worlds safest. As I leave I see on the TV news the face of a friend staring out at me. It seems no matter how hard I try Iraq will not let me go. It haunts me day by day. I’m sat looking at the innocent face of a trainee journalist I knew in Iraq, Jill Carol 28, kidnapped and threatened with death if all female Iraqi prisoners are not released from jail.

Her interpreter was thrown out of her car and shot in the head leaving a 4-year-old without a father. It seems some stories will never go away. For 4 months last year I tuned into the news each night fearing the worst for another friend George. He was released after 4 months and only because he was French. Carol happens to be American.

The road to Tokyo

I’m sat in the limousine bus from Narita International airport to central Tokyo with a nervous excitement in my stomach. I’ve spent most of last year doing the festival circuit with ‘Liberace of Baghdad’ and now it is time to embark on another adventure. As a place to film; Japan is not without its difficulties, traditionally one of the most secretive and private societies where very few people speak English. I’d heard of the growth in English language schools and wondered why? When I looked further into it, it seemed many Japanese were learning English out of a growth in leisure and ‘freedom’ rather need for work or travel. The English school provided me with an opportunity to meet English speaking subjects for a film. I’d heard stories about the ‘housewives’ who would learn English in their afternoon breaks. They’d often not tell their husbands and would have secret fantasies for the English teacher. It only seemed sensible for someone like me to come as film maker/ English teacher to look at modern Japanese using the English school as a vehicle to freedom.

Snowmans Welcome

I meet my friend Atsushi at the 246 café near my hotel. It’s a very western café, with a faint smell of fish. But even that disturbs me, fortunately there are loads of people smoking and it kills the smell. Smoking inside? Seems rather liberal in Japan. And women smoking everywhere I look, probably more then men.

This super clean environment is smoke filled. Why? We sit and wait for two café latte’s I watch the array of beautiful women serving us. It is difficult to concentrate here with such beautiful women. I notice Atsushi seeing that I’m now ignoring him. He understands and gives up the conversation for just enough time for me look at little longer… Beautiful… apart from the smoke and that faint fishy smell. Then our coffees arrive. It is extra creamy, a latte like never before. And on top is a snowman designed specially for me by the coffee maker. I look over to Atsushi’s coffee there is no snowman. I smile, waft passing smoke away from my face blown by a gorgeous girl next to us and then I sip the coffee. It tastes better than most – I have another sip – in fact it is amazing coffee. I look down at the menu and worry about my vegetarian diet. How on earth am I going to cope here? But now I’m just enjoying the coffee, I take another sip. This is better than Italy I think to myself.

This is my first education on arriving in Japan; you can get everything you want here, and it will always taste better than anywhere you’ve ever tried before! The Japanese get lots wrong but rarely is it ever food.

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.

Like Brothers Now

Oh how we partied, like little children on holiday, or more like a rock band on tour. It didn’t take long before everyone knew ‘the Liberace entourage’ had arrived at Sundance. I was making a video diary for BBC 2’s ‘Culture Show’ so I brought my friend Johnny along to film it. Samir of course was there, Ollie, the editor and co creator of all my films was there too, also Andy and Nick my mates from Hull who’d come for free parties, wine and women.

And so we partied in abundance, usually 3 a day, all with free bars wine and women, such was our interest in the films. The place was surreal, especially for Samir who looked on with wide open eyes taking in American culture for the first time in his life. For me I kept thinking of Iraq, of Baghdad, of the strange messed up place I’d left many months ago only to find ultimate success here at Americas top film festival. It was a privilege and I was proud, and so happy for Samir. He was proud, but after travelling so far, (nearly not getting there due to the racist security men in London Airport) he was now intent on only one thing, winning the international competition.

We had four screenings over 10 gruelling days. We had employed publicists who were working us hard with lots of newspaper interviews, tv and radio.. on the first day we did live a breakfast tv show and Samir announced he’d killed a man in the Iran war, the interviewer went quiet and they showed a clip from the film. All media stuff is supposed to be very glamorous but its dull in reality. But I must not complain, we seek this sort of thing all our lives then it happens and we moan. I made a point of never moaning about it and always looked forward to the next free bar. Sleeping was tough with 7 in one room and only 2 beds. Samir soaked up all the attention from young girls at parties, he was the ageing rock star and lasted the course well. He was always on the dance floor, occasionally topless, never failing to try and impress some young admirer.

Then it suddenly ended with an awards ceremony. I was cool but Samir was anxious. I got angry with his desire to win. I was just happy to be there, one of only twelve films chosen from the world for competition. Amazing. But no, he insisted on winning. Then we arrive and we are asked to sit at the end of the row.. the publicist had heard good things, he said to start preparing a speech.. I was now anxious and Samir speechless. I drank red wine and began to think. The Liberace entourage would keep nipping off to fill up my glass. I couldn’t remember all the thank-you’s, then I looked around the vast place with huge screens off the stage all over the place. I just couldn’t imagine going up there. Before long it had begun and it didn’t take long to hear that The Liberace of Baghdad had won a ‘Special Jury Award’.. There was a cheer and we were on our feet making our way to the stage, making a speech, holding each other up, and hearing the crowd laughing. Samir was moaning to them that I had brought him thousands of miles from his home to talk to people he didn’t want to talk to.

At the back stage party Samir and I held each other, he wanted to cry, he said he was so happy, not for him but for me. He could see how happy I was to have won and it made him happy and proud to have given himself to the film. “We’re more then friend’s” he said, “We’re like brothers now.”