Two years ago, on Dec 11th, 2007 I blogged:
As I type, CAPTAIN ABU RAED is being screened to a theater-full for the first time at the Dubai Int'l Film Festival.
I wanted to post this before the pundits speak and before the general public reactions to the film, because as I always say, this project will forever hold a special place in my world. This is about making a beautiful film with a determined and dedicated group of people, 14 nationalities speaking 17 languages on the journey of Amin's CAPTAIN ABU RAED. And it's also about engaging all the amazing people you encounter through life, telling them about your fabulous project and inviting them to be part of the ride - because you need them, and because they're going to love being part of the magic.I'm going to squeeze writing this post while I work on a doc treatment at a production house, watching a rough edit, aiming my Mac strategically to keep the wireless signal connected, blogging bareback, juggling my attention, but struggling to focus as the only thing occupying my thoughts is CAPTAIN ABU RAED and Amin.
Because I love movies. Big, small, short, long, wide, dark. All genres, shapes and sizes. I just love movies. And I love how movies make us feel and dream and laugh and cry.
So I left Dubai and the dotcom world sometime end '02 and packed it all in heading to Jordan to figure out a way to make small short meaningful entertaining films for the internet and cellphone delivery.
Well, I soon realized it was way too early and that there was so much content and talent to be discovered and explored first, and I didn't know much of what was going on locally, so producing took a back seat to a wonderful job offered to me by a dear friend, Samer Mouasher, and one I'm honored to have held at the Royal Film Commission.
First Middle East Screenwriters Lab held by RFC & Sundance at the RSCN Wadi Feynan eco-lodge. (This lodge had not been opened to public yet and we were the first to use it. As I was going through options of where to home the lab, Yassin Talhouni suggested Feynan, and he was so right.)At the newly established RFC I jump started a capacity building division, piloted the Middle East Screenwriters Lab with Sundance, piloted filmmaking workshops with USC towards setting up a masters program in Jordan, supported audiovisual training programs with the AM Qattan Foundation and curated a host of activities that would encourage any kind of talent to become part of our creative community. I also found a way to engage friends and colleagues from my past lives into my RFC one - all for the love of movies.
The first Jordanian talent with determination and an interesting portfolio under his belt was Amin Matalqa. I found him online through his shorts which back then were hosted on his Mac site, and the one that drew me to connect with him was Saliba bil Hammam. Samer and I watched it together, and as I sat back I thought this guy is funny, gets the nuances of contemporary culture within a specific demographic and can actually put picture and sound together properly. I emailed him saying we were on a mission to help build a film industry in Jordan and that I wanted to know more about who he is and what he wants to do in film himself.
That was the beginning of this four plus year journey which continues to go to beautiful, and yet to be discovered places.
A few months after our first email and one long phone call, I met Amin in LA where he lives. Samer and I were there for the RFC's first Locations Trade Show and I spent a lot of time with Amin talking film, what I wanted to one day bring to life, his plans, his feature script ideas, what the RFC's vision was, etc, etc, etc. We talked, and talked and talked. Back then he had a feature he was dabbling with and I asked to read it so he brought a copy to the trade show the next day. I took a break, sat on the bleachers of the Santa Monica Convention Center and read WALKING OUT WEST. I was so entertained!
While in LA, I spent time with Amin outside of the trade show. Once we met up for a drink where him and a writing partner would meet every night to write, and write, and write, and write. And these were two young people with full time jobs they needed to pay the bills and only until they could pursue their dreams. It was 10pm-ish when we met and they were just going to get started and would probably write well into the night, catching a couple of hours of sleep before punching in at 8am.
I left blown away with this guy and his seriousness, talent, hard work and determination. And I was so happy to hold a public sector job that empowered me to support Jordanian talent and do whatever it takes to serve them and help make their dreams come true. So not only had I found a gem of a person, I was also in the lucky position of actually being able to do something for him through my job. What it was, I didn't know then.
Jump forward a year and a half - during which we kept each other regularly updated on happenings and the RFC helped create local awareness for Amin and his shorts through a screening program around Jordan - when Amin emailed through the first draft of CAPTAIN ABU RAED, which back then was titled UNDER THE TREE, OVER THE OCEAN, a working title no one would ever get right! LOL
With each draft Amin sent through the story just got better. Then one day he says, "I'm ready to make this film, how are we getting it funded?" There was no question in my head about where the financing had to come from. It just had to be financed through Jordanian investment. We were ready.
So one afternoon Amin and Aida (his mom and exec producer on the film) sat in my RFC office for hours and the three of us dug through our people database to list names who would care about getting this film made and believed in Amin and wanted to support his first feature. I looked up and told them, "the first person you need to talk to as soon as you leave here is Isam Salfiti, chairman of the board of Jordan's Union Bank for Savings & Investment." Isam is a lover of the arts, music, film. Was one of the founders of Jordan's National Music Conservatory and supports many, many cultural projects and talents. When building the headquarters of the bank in Amman, he built a theatre in the basement to host music, art exhibits and other cultural events. Since my first day at the RFC, Isam was one of the first people who supported some of our programs and i kept him abreast of all our plans, dreams and would often visit with my laptop showing him shorts and experimental projects new emerging talent was dabbling with, among which were Amin's shorts. I often would share with Isam the things that got me excited about our work because I knew he'd appreciate it and enjoy the experiences. One summer day, I urged him and his fabulous wife Samia to visit a USC workshop we were holding in Amman where they got lost in the afternoon with us and ended up engaged in the workshop discussions with the students and faculty.
RFC/USC's first filmmaking class housed at the AbulHuda house in Jabal Amman - a beautiful old home that looks out at the Citadel on the hill across.
I told Amin, "Isam is going to love the story and will fall in love with you. Actually, the two of you will fall in love with each other." Although their families are related in some way, they didn't know each other. And when they met it was instant magnetism. The project was pitched to friends and colleagues from past lives. Amin and his family and friends listed people with whom this story would resonate and who would be interested in supporting the film.
And so Isam lead the creation of a Jordanian production co, Paper & Pen Films, with Amin and CAPTAIN ABU RAED anchored as it's first production - a company with 17 investors who were in for the love of the game. Laith Majali, his partner from day one while creating the story, and David Pritchard (exec producer), never left Amin's side, where the three of them worked non stop towards getting the film made. At Sundance '06 they joined me and the RFC team visiting the festival and we kept working on the plan of the whos and the whats and the hows. The previous year I attended the Sundance Producers Conference and as a participant was required to fill in the catalog listing which insisted I enter a project. My entry was: "A Jordanian Feature Film", which I found hilarious - with no idea as to what, who, when. At the conference struggled to offer a convincing answer to why there hadn't been an indie feature out of Jordan since 1991 and the one before was in 1957! But today, digital technology, orgs like the RFC and a growing creative community change all that!
Early '06 I left the RFC to finally venture out and produce. Amin soon after asked me to produce on CAPTAIN ABU RAED - it would be my first feature, and first for many in so many ways. The labor of love that is CAPTAIN ABU RAED grew organically as passionate people came on board, attracted to Amin and his clever leadership of this project, and to the touching story he'd been sculpting.
Once we hit pre-production, we had rallied the support and participation of people who were willing to climb mountains for the project, and in spite of the inevitable hiccups that did occur, something would always manifest to the better, and a hurdle soon made way for another amazing addition to the project, which kept getting better. Our friends came together from anywhere and everywhere, and they pulled in their resources, and one day there was this amazing force of people helping us out any which way. We could feel the love, and that was the best fuel to do absolutely anything!
Along the way we found commercial brands who wanted to gladly support the project in one form or anther - all for the right reasons. ULTRA water keep us hydrated throughout the shoot. MR. CHIPS gave us a stock of their products for snacks throughout, as did EISBERG wafers owned by a high school pal, Subhi Jabri. ORANGE gave us cellphones and lines. NATIONAL PAINTS were generous to supply us with all our needs through wrap, THE GREATER AMMAN MUNICIPALITY/ specifically the Mayor Eng. Omar Maani sponsored the aerial shoot of Amman, and the wonderful GAMMOH family offered us use of their family home in Ashrafiyeh which we called ABU RAED STUDIOS where we built nine sets.
Today, CAPTAIN ABU RAED for me is not about Jordan's first contemporary indie movie. It's not about the first feature since 1957 or 1991. It's not about being Jordanian. It's not about the burden of representation.
CAPTAIN ABU RAED is about the individuality of this project, it's about a script full of characters we can relate to, it's about the journey of passionate, talented people, wanting to make a feature with universal appeal, serving the vision of an inspirational, hard working writer/director, and fulfilling the personal dream of wanting to make good movies. It's about a bunch of kids and adults who performed roles they could relate to. And this is about making this movie, and moving on to make the next, and the one after, and hopefully as many as we can before we die. End of story.
So the next time you meet someone who worked on this beautiful movie ask them about their CAPTAIN ABU RAED story, and make sure you ask them 'what's next?'
On exporting our screen stories. Captain Abu Raed's many lessons by Yusuf Mansur.
First Middle East Screenwriters Lab, The Star FirstMiddeEastScreenwritersLab.pdf