On the Red Carpet

Tales from our recent adventures at the Tripoli Film Festival.

So there we were, walking down a red carpet, heads turning towards us, cameras pointing, microphones thrust under our noses. All very much in the public eye. It was great, it was terrifying, it was utterly alien.

But mostly great.

cameras sign

Tripoli Was a Trip

And so we spent 8 days in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. We ate gigantic portions of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were welcomed and treated like gold by a fun, professional little team. We had drivers, a security detail, a translator, a cosy room in an old monastery. We were taken on cultural trips. We met Lebanese icons of film, old and new. And did I mention that we ate? My God…

Oh yes, and we watched some films.

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Film Festivals Live Up to their Name

Although the Tripoli Film Festival (TFF) was a small, humble affair, we still had plenty of movies to watch. By the end of the eighth and final day, we’d pretty much reached saturation point. Carl had to watch Horrible Bosses 2 on the flight back to South Africa, just to flush his mind out with nonsense after a week-long period of intense international dramas, comedies, documentaries.

You Schmooze You (don’t) Lose

Being Film Festival neophytes, we weren’t used to the schmooze aspect. If you’re ever invited to one of these things, take note. You need to network like there’s no (after) tomorrow.

One of our party was rather adept at this practice, and through observing him in action we picked up the ground rules:

  • Talk to everyone, especially the judges
  • Tell everyone that you want to make a documentary about them
  • Attend every event set-up by the organisers
  • Talk up your film at EVERY opportunity

Hey, it worked for him: he won a prize.

Winning Fans

So, no, After Tomorrow didn’t walk away with the Best Documentary prize, but we had our share of fans. One journalist interviewed us for an hour and a half, and wrote three full-page pieces for Arabic newspapers. Another critic bumped into Carl in Beirut and told him that we were robbed by not winning.

But as much as we had our fans, we also had some criticisms.

Everyone’s a Critic

After some time living in so-called Western culture, it felt good for us to be back amongst Arabs. As a rule, they’re are not shy, and we heard every opinion under the sun about how our film could’ve been better. “I loved the film, but I wouldn’t have done this, next time you should do that” was a common refrain. All quite unlike the rather restrained individuals you’d encounter in London or Jo’burg.

At the end though, all this bluntness did serve to strengthen our resolve. We believed more in our creative decisions. Because if you have to take everyone’s opinion into consideration, you’d never finish a thing. And then you wouldn’t be jetting off to cool places like Tripoli to attend a film festival.

So no regrets.

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Inside-cinema-lores

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Welcome to the Danger Zone

You know, the world’s media doesn’t exactly make you feel safe about travelling to Tripoli.

Type ‘Tripoli, Lebanon’ into Google, and you’ll get news of a suicide bombing from January 2015. Go to Wikitravel and you’ll see an encouraging block of text detailing a Travel Advisory against travelling to the city.

Paranoia is a State of Mind

So, upon receiving the invitation to attend the Tripoli Film Festival, the fear began to set in. This only grew stronger the more we researched and the more we spoke to people. Even friends and family of ours who live in Beirut (let’s be honest, not exactly the paragon of a ‘safe city’) warned against visiting the Northern town: “It’s still hot, watch out!”

But we swallowed our fears and trusted in the Gods. Carl’s rationale was that he was from Johannesburg, goddamnit, so how could Tripoli be worse? (There was a travel advisory against Johannesburg at the time too, due to xenophobic violence).

On the Front Line

We stayed in a suburb called El Mina, just outside of Tripoli proper. We never felt unsafe in that particular area, however we weren’t immune to the paranoid poison that had leaked into our thick skulls before departure.

On one occasion, whilst searching for an antiques market, we ended up on the ‘front-line’ which had seen plenty of sectarian violence over the years. The bullet-pocked buildings and makeshift army bunkers inside ruined buildings got us nervous. As did the reaction of our Head of Logistics who, upon finding out where we were, came racing along in his van and scooped us up, delivering us safely back at our hotel.

Apparently he was worried about pickpockets…

Anyway, I guess fear can’t be ignored, especially when you’re promoting an event (the Film Festival) which is specifically designed to show the world that Tripoli is a great place to visit.

Tripoli is a Great Place to Visit

Yes, it bears repeating. It’s quiet, especially compared to Beirut. It’s on the coast. The food is great. There are amazing historical buildings that you can visit without having to endure a queue. Shopping is cheap and, best of all, there’s no bargaining. People there are so unused to tourists that the concept of setting a high price and bargaining down is foreign – basically, everyone pays a local price.

20150502_124904The people are especially friendly. Everyone in the team of volunteers was lovely. We made genuine friendships, knowing that if we’re ever to return, we’ll be looked after like kings.

20150501_120053Tripoli sounds great. When can I go?

Look, it does have it’s problems, like everywhere. There is still fear in the air. The sectarian tension will probably never go away. ISIS is apparently (according to Western media) snaking its tendrils into every corner of the Middle East and surrounds – so there’s always that.

It’s not the cleanest of towns (one rat in particular took a fondness to Carl’s schwarma one evening), and there isn’t a huge amount to do, especially if you’re used to so-called ‘big city’ living.

But hell, why not see for yourself? We can put you in contact with some great people who’ll be only too pleased to show you around.

After all, that’s the only way to know for sure.

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Taking a Trip to Tripoli

Tripoli Badge

If you’re following us on Facebook (check us out if not: https://www.facebook.com/aftertomorrowmovie), you’ll have noticed that After Tomorrow has been accepted at the Tripoli Film Festival in Lebanon! It takes place from the 30th of April till the 7 of May.

The organisers have kindly offered us free accommodation, food and transport, so how could we possibly say no. Not to mention that we now have the chance to screen our film in proper theatres, and hopefully lead Q&A sessions and have meetings which might lead to… well, who knows what.

We’ll try to blog a daily report from Tripoli, if we’re not too busy watching films, eating fish and sweets, and visiting some really cool historical sites in this ancient city.

One fascinating aspect of our trip is that this particular film festival seems to be part of the slow regeneration of the city… an attempt to regain its lost, rich artistic heritage. We’ll learn more when we spend time there, but we’re massively grateful to be a part of the story, and can’t wait to attend.

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Ain’t No Wedding like a Bedouin Wedding

Although we left Petra just as the wedding season (June/July) was getting into full swing, we were lucky enough to experience two wedding receptions in one night – both of which turned out to be completely different.

The modern wedding with the DJ

This one was wild. A semi-circle of tents had been set up around what was to become the dance floor.

The wedding started with a feast of goat mansaf, which is essentially a UFO-sized plate piled high with rice, vegetables and meat. The mansaf adorned with the skulls of our dearly departed goats were presented to the guests of honour (not us, thankfully).

After the eating, came the drinking (and not just tea), and then the party got started.

At the appointed time, the DJ whipped a sheet off his music equipment to reveal two giant speakers, a mixing desk and a double CD player. He cranked the amp up to max (and beyond) and let ‘er rip. The men all linked arms (the women partied elsewhere, in private) and swung their legs around like NFL kickers. Even the kids got jiggy in the whirl of delighted excitement.

It seems that what we were witnessing was a highly energetic version of the dabke dance.

It carried on like this for hours, so we decided to go check out another wedding which was going on down the road.

The traditional wedding with the guy dressed like Batman

This was a far more subdued affair, and as such we were surprised to see Johnny Depp there, dressed in traditional thobe and talking seriously with the older men. And that’s pretty much all that was happening – talking. And smoking, but that’s Arabia for you.

To be honest though, it was all rather pleasant, until the dancing began, and then things got weird. The men (yep, no women at this bash either), all linked arms, but instead of a DJ, the guys started singing and chanting.

An older gentleman suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, wearing a black thobe. His party trick was to hold his thobe out and swoop like Batman at the chanting men, who would surge forward as one and chase him away.

Someone told us that it was a humorous dance about the relationships between men and women, and that Batman was flirting with the men and trying to crash the party, and the men were chasing her/him away. Or something. It was hard to hear as our ears had been deadened by DJ Ultra Decibel over at the other wedding.

Anyway, it’s a struggle to find any info about this particular dance, so check out this short clip we shot on the night – apologies for the darkness, but it was, well, dark! Batman makes his appearance at around 5 seconds.

As you can see, these guys know how to party.

(BTW, If anyone can shed some light into the significance of this dance, we’d be most appreciative!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2715l3cn3g&feature=youtu.be

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The great side of making a documentary

So now that After Tomorrow, (our 53-minute documentary about the lives of the Bedouin of Petra, Jordan, in case you didn’t know), is complete and we’re busy trying to get it ‘out there’ in the world, it seems relevant to reflect on the whole experience of making a documentary.

There were good times, there were bad… just like life.

Petra is awesome!

It was an adventure we’ll never forget. Not only do we have the memories of our two months in Petra hanging out with the incredibly accommodating Bedouin, we also have 55 hours of film which we can access for the rest of our lives!

I can just see the Toufic and I, aged 75, sitting around the hologram machine, somehow projecting our ancient .Mov files onto a wall of plasma… laughing and reminiscing about the good times.

Petra will provide

They say that fortune favours the brave, and in terms of filming this documentary, we both found this to be the case, profoundly. As soon as the decision to go to Petra was made, the Universe literally opened doors for us.

If we needed money (and we always needed money), we’d find some. If we wanted to interview someone, they would suddenly show up. After a month in the village, we needed a new place to live. Bam, next day it was sorted by a Bedouin we’d never met before, free of charge.

For the duration of our stay, we were in no doubt that this is where we were supposed to be… jobs, credit, relationships be damned.

Thinking of shooting your own doccie?

So if there’s one piece of advice we could give budding filmmakers, it’d be ‘just do it’ (thanks Nike). Dive right in, ignore the problems until you can’t any longer, and then you’ll find ways to deal with them. Because fortune does indeed favour the brave, in miraculous ways.

But you’ll never find out how until you try.

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The painful part of shooting a documentary

After living the dream, returning to reality proved to be a real pain in the ass…

Money, money, money

As soon as we returned to our normal lives, the Universe abandoned us to our fates. Suddenly everything became a struggle. Especially cash. Back in London, we had to find jobs ASAP to pay rent, catch up on credit card debt, eat. And then once we were sucked back into the rat race, it was hard to find time to finish what we’d started.

The more you shoot, the more you pay!

It took us about a year to catalogue the 55 hours of footage. We found an awesome editor, but she cost money which we didn’t have. So we had to go around, cap-in-hand and beg (a horrible experience).

Ain’t too proud to beg

If you’re in a similar position, here are some ways we tried to raise completion funds:

  • Toufic is an excellent photographer, so we put on a photo exhibit in South London. It was fun, and a mild success… but after paying for booze, food, studio rental and printing costs, we only managed to raise £500. Enough for one day’s editing.
  • Toufic was in Dubai and somehow ended up giving a talk to people interested in film. This didn’t raise a cent at the time, but helped us when it came to…
  • … the hellishly embarrassing Crowdfunding video we made. This helped us scrape together some decent funds, and was by far the most successful way of raising money. We were, however, blessed to have some very generous friends.

So, it took us a while, but we managed. And after a final post-production stint in South Africa, ‘After Tomorrow’ was finally finished, four and a half years after the process began.

Selling the dream

But now another journey has begun. Film Festivals. Hustling to get Sales Agents to look at the doc. Hassling broadcasters. All of this is new to us, and we’re struggling to figure it out. But we’ll get there. Eventually.

Because the one thing this experience has taught us is that where there’s a will, there’s a way (and yet another cliché). And we’ve got plenty of will. The only thing is… when will we make our next doc?

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Watch our new trailer

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