Saeed - February 2016
Wake up early, try to sleep on the train but there’s work to do. The man beside me taking up too much space, so I cram myself into the corner of my seat as a compromise. Roll into town.
Walk, still half asleep, to find a cafe. I’m practising my Newcastle accent in my head. Order a veggie breakfast and I’m ready to go.
Newcastle does have a castle. But it’s old.
Tyneside Cinema and more coffee first, second, third.
Welcome, introductions. Stand still for photos, feel awkward, pretend to talk to each other for photos. Pretend to stand still again. Then,
Kate, story, character’s wants, needs, doesn’t gets. She tells me “your film is about a man who wants to belong but never can.” I think, “that’s it!” though I never considered it in those words. But she’s right. A man pulled in half between two worlds.
“People don’t usually act the way they feel, they often act the opposite.” Think of how we express ourselves in subtle ways, secretive ways, ways that make sense only to us and the people who understand us. I’ve never worked with actors before. “We’re much more knowable than we think we are,” It’s a terrifying thought. For all our bluffing, poker-facing, hiding our emotions, misleading, manipulation, we are all probably much more transparent than we assume, than we hope.
“Audiences don’t want to be told what to think,” she says (“but what about mindless blockbusters?” I ask myself. This contradiction has yet to be solved)
(Later I admit to her in an email that I liked - or, let’s say, appreciated - Frozen for its flawless story structure. She threatens blackmail with this information so I’m going public with it.)
The one central beating heart of all stories: a stranger comes to town. And here I am, a stranger in town. What’s my story? What do I want here? Who’s my storyteller?
Samm shows me images of Cragside, a house built into a mountain.
“What’s your film about?”
“You mean the plot?”
“No, what’s it really about?”
The injury is remembered even if the perpetrator isn’t.
He shows me pictures of old museums, stately homes, glass cases, Victorian mansions, exhibitions, dioramas, we talk about arms manufacturers, racism, the legacy of colonialism (I drink a cup of tea).
At the end of the day, I go to the Indian restaurant across the street for dinner. Albert - hair slicked down, curious - is my waiter. He asks “What nationality are you?”
“Oh, so…your capital is Ramallah and your President is Abu Mazen, otherwise known as Mahmoud Abbas,”
“How did you know that?”
“I have a photographic memory”
He asks if he can be in the film.
“Sure, I need extras! Also, can you help me find a victorian museum to film in?”
He raises one finger confidently, to reassure me,
“I’ll find you something, and I will not disappoint.”
Morning. Roxy urges me to look for locations and crew in the north. I’d be happy to, anything to break the London monopoly.
Back on the train, lolling, slow car rolling forwards. Sorry for the 13 minute delay. Three women, nurses, heading to an employment tribunal in London. They laugh, apologise for disturbing me. I say no problem, I love the enthusiasm and joy. They bring out a bottle of wine for the journey, laugh some more, offer me a Walnut Whip. Gossip. I do some work, fall asleep in my chair, wake up when the train journey ends. The women chuckle some more, excuse me we need to get our bags, sorry again for all the noise. No problem, it was my pleasure.
Walter Murch said something like “There are only two important things in a film. The beginning and the end. And the beginning isn’t that important.” Now, after lowering an old, frail body into a grave in Amman, I’m reminded of perhaps my favourite last line in cinema, “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again…who does?”