Friday, March 8, 2013

Late But Not Least

It is rather embarrassing to begin writing a new post, skipping to document the progress of the whole month, the duration of the whole project. I believe I have good reason though; so apologies if I disappointed anyone who popped by here, hasn't seen a new post for a while. For that reason, it will be a condensed post, summarising the preparation period, filming and editing in one go.

When I look back, I recall starting working on the props/storyboard/lists...etc 8 months before. However all these preparations proved very useful, immensely facilitating our project, and enabling us to film all the footage in 6 days, and finishing the editing of the visuals in 7 days, working 14 hours a day. Now I have a 54-minute film, waiting to be unmuted with the sounds I will continue editing during my stay in Seoul, starting next week. And it is my best ever film!

 Film Stills

It wasn't difficult to find the other materials I needed. I would like to thank to fantastic boys of Traffic for facilitating everything for us to work in a chilled and easy environment. Nilo, their spiritual business father, arranged everything so well that all the time there is Ali, Sherwin or Jose, as well as Amal available to travel with us to supply what material we need.

We also borrowed a kitten from the veterinary clinic for the film, does this not sound surreal?! We said "We want to borrow a cat for our film"; then they asked "What kind of cat?" I replied "What do you mean?" They offered a variety of characters, saying "calm, or aggressive, such and such..." Wow, amazing, just like a cat casting agency! We brought our false-victorian bird cage, and tried different cats one by one and chose a little kitten who was happy to be inside the cage, finding it homely. (Anything happened at that vet was so unusual) We named him 'Boy' and did not at all realise how much we were gonna attach to him, sending him back with tears...

I allocated different group of scenes with different settings to 6 days of a week. The first 3 days were the most difficult days of filming. As labouring and harvesting have always been the most prominent activities in my films, it was no different this time. In the middle of the desert, under 35 degrees, we all shoveled sand, shoveled earth, shoveled gravels, carried massive rocks, filled the chest, then emptied, then filled it back again; which ceaselessly refers and reminds us the construction of Dubai.

The first day was the cat and quad bike scenes together. We came across our first warning at the formerly old tv tower, and new shiny cycle track. Apparently it belongs to the Engineer's Office of Sheikh Muhammed, and  our permission from the filming commission was not adequate. They were really nice however, letting us to complete our filming there, without fining us. I owe to Rami and his amazing skills of chilled out communication. It was such a spectacular view: Ghulam interacting with the kitten, I'm so glad it's a big part of the film.

I just love little games of cheating, covering shiny signs with tea-stained newspapers, dressing high voltage spot lights with hessian bags collected from beside the road. Opss.. Did I give away too much? As film-making gives you the control over the viewpoint of the participant, I guess I am just learning to enjoy this authority.

Second and third days were allocated to the chest scenes. These were the days of precarious tall ladder shots. We survived; but had to sacrifice an aluminum rod from Ben's rig that we borrowed. I spent the rest of the week in shame and lack of days-worth sleep; he was so cool about it all. How can there be such a person!!?

Younes, a great guy who has produced fantastic projects visited us in the desert almost every evening. I should thank him for unintentionally introducing us with the location that has the best looking pylons, which we utilised in most of the water extraction scenes. And Ali fed us with delicious Biryanis in the middle of desert every single lunch time. In amongst all the craziness, I also did a pecha kucha night on the 23rd of February; on a short history of metaphysics and substance, as a supporting material for the film. I was first afraid of having to bore people to snore, I've got quite lovely feedback instead! That was a relief! I might attach some frames from the presentation here actually..

The last two days of shooting was at the wasteland near traffic. We filmed the indoor-tent scenes; which also involved the acting of 40 mackerels ! (which we barbequed on the following day) The 5th day was rather a stressful day; it was hotter than usual, we were invaded by thousands of flies, Ghulam hated the fish smell in the tent, reluctant to go in, Tom and I started to argue after having worked peacefully until then. Boy the kitten was the most chilled out of all of us, reminding me of Rami so much!.

We finished filming one day earlier than planned; it was quite celebratory. My panicky character enabled us to have a day off; as we finished a day earlier. We immediately started editing with the hateful Final Cut X. I don't think I ever hated any software as much as I did from this hobby editing program which is slightly better than iMovie. Anyways, everything eventually went well, and I now have an exciting 54 minute film, edited and colour corrected.

In the last week, Tom and I have collected plenty of sounds from around Al Quoz factories. (Special thanks to David for lending us his adorable Zoom h4n sound recorder) I feel very very slightly naive for working with windtowers or beautiful historical artefacts of Dubai last year, whereas I now believe what makes Dubai Dubai is its current industrial state, its builders and factories. It has been such a great experience to be based in Al Quoz, sound hunting at midnights, to share the secret production sounds and alien landscapes of the area, when everyone else is peacefully sleeping on the other side of the city. I feel so special to witness those moments of fascination and unfamiliarity despite the friendliness of people working there. I slightly felt disappointed with my life, found it so ordinary; whereas probably factory workers consider the same for their lives.  The headphones and the sound recorder took me to a parallel universe heightening my experience of the outer world, with an inner experience. I now hear sounds in a different way; I really listen.

Couple of days ago we have given a welding workshop with Tom in return for borrowing Tashkeel's tripod. We had 4 brilliant students. I had such a good time working outdoors at Tashkeel again...Ahhhh good old days....

Dinner with lovely new residents of Bastakiya and Aaron. What a familiar scene, I should have the exact same photo like at my old residency blog
Magician Charlie at Rami's kids' birthday in Safa park
Looks like a David Shrigley work, so cute!
From the welding workshop at Tashkeel. They were some talented students!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Probably the Last Post Before the Big Day

I'm very pleased with where we are based at the minute. Last year, I remember visiting the workers' mall, when we were taken to their camp. I felt immensely aware of the colour of my skin, and my social status when we were on their territory. Now, the aforementioned Grand Mall is our local shop, which Tom and I walk to, every now and then. On our walk there via the eternal construction on the pavement (I just want to clear my point here, there is never a pavement; all the walkways are just sand), we find plenty of time and material to discover new facts that make Dubai what it is.

What a pretty water tower
Not an artwork, but better than one
Just at the corner from us, so cute!
We walked to the beach the other day, I feel very proud to show that it is still possible to walk to places in Dubai
Jebel Ali Racecourse
The building that made me feel homesick

We already know that, moments of suspension will not wait for us forever. If we are not quick enough, opportunities here just disappear in a single moment. You should jump on the carousel, when it is already spinning. Tom was telling me about his experience at the bakery of Grand Mall. As a British citizen, of course he loves queuing up, and politely waiting for his turn to arrive and to be asked what he wants. Whereas this morning, he told me his funny story of gradually being pushed back and back at the bakery queue. You have to take what you want yourself apparently, rather than waiting for it to be given to you. It is the same in traffic. When we aim to cross the road, the cars are in hesitation, almost expecting us to jump on the road, and cross before them. But this doesn't make them to stop and give way; so there is a stage of limbo in everything.

Today's post is dedicated to Ben. I'm not used to coming across such generous, big-hearted people in my daily life. And here in Dubai, I almost melt into the ground with the favours of some old friends I met last year. Ben is lending us his fancy expensive SLR gadgets so that we can make a great film. He gave two inductions to Tom on his sophisticated cinematography skills. Who would do that!? I promise here, (this published post is the copyright of my promise) you Ben, will make my next film, where ever it will be.

Yesterday was the day of our rehearsal. Here I present Ghulam! He is very charismatic.

We also visited Tashkeel today to borrow the tripod for the film; everything is finally coming together. (Thanks Ali for taking us there) We have a very civilised but also beautifully archaic agreement with Tashkeel. Tom and I will give a welding workshop as an exchange in skills, towards borrowing the equipment. Wish that was the only way of trading in real life. 

Such a nice feeling it was; seeing Hadeyeh, Hala, Khalid, Salama, Jill and Latifah today. It was very comforting as it felt we are proceeding on a project after a small break, from where we left. Comforting to see some elements of Dubai remaining the same; and that evokes homeliness.

Can't wait to see Farah tonight; can't wait for that sweet homely feeling again.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Valentines Gifts


Yesterday was the best day. We are obviously having the payback of our nine month misery of waiting. St. Valentine of the third century tapped on our shoulders, and sent his blessings as well as our crates to Satellite in a lovely Mitsubishi truck. I had a slight worry about the condition of the chest, after the customs inspection. Obviously, I wasn't expecting them to utilise drill drivers to unscrew the lid or anything; but it was still a thoughtful, tender bash with a crowbar, at the corner of the crate. Whereas Turkish customs prefer axing them, which is less lovely. Surprisingly, not even a single twig from the chest was broken, everything was in its place; the quad was not even inspected. Rami was with us at Satellite during our exciting wait, then we worked at the space together, listening to music, and setting up the quad, the tent, the chest. A brilliant day!

We have to sort out the flat tyre issue today
Rami, practicing the gears
 Then Rami took us for a Valentine's night out, first to Dubai Mall, then to Downtown Dubai for a delicious dinner and the best ever chat. I was so fascinated by the crowd and the size of Dubai Mall. (Well, it is the biggest in the world) Despite being a shopping mall, it is purely a product of Visual Culture, more so then being a venue for expenditure. It's built to be looked at. It's the place you mostly buy with your eyes, consume with your eyes. To be honest, I quite like the democracy of the mall, where it is free to feed your eyes, and digest what you have seen in the following days, no matter what your status in the society is. The abundance of people you see at a Thursday night is part of the whole display. 
This fountain in Dubai Mall evoked the feeling of a bonfire, in the same way how you stare at it, without moving eyes.
                                                         The ice-skating rink in the centre of the mall
We also have been to the biggest book shop in the world. It is not a book shop, a but a book city. I should say, I was a bit overwhelmed; couldn't choose what to look at, but wandered around paralysed. I should practice for the next time about how to achieve a deduction in book-looking.

The biggest bookshop in the world, perhaps 1/20 of it visible in the image.
Once we lost our walking ability in the bookshop, it was time to chill out and have a nice meal. We headed to Downtown Dubai, which has an impressive view of a very tall jewellery, Burj Khalifa. The food was superb; it was excellent! The staff was so friendly. I didn't want anything to disturb that moment; I would have stopped time, if I could.

Cold mezze
Hot mezze
It was yesterday again I discovered the secret of the numerous editions of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum portrait paintings in Satellite. Always thought they were made by one person, and tried to imagine the context of the project. I'm so happy that I finally asked Rami about it, and now I know; it's a brilliant piece of work! The author of the project Lantian Xie, had 12 identical paintings of the 'publicly-known' photo of Sheikh Mohammed, each crafted by a different art worker in China. Then these paintings composed the installation 'I Think I Love You'. The most interesting part of the project is the bureaucratic legalities of the presentation of the work, which transformed the piece into a project where the paintings became equipments/mediators, rather than the final product.  The Chamber of Commerce allowed Traffic to perform the exhibition but did not permit the sales of the paintings to avoid the imagery of the Sheikh becoming a trade object. The successful skill of the paintings however was the ultimate key, in getting the permission to publicly show the work. In this way the institution of commerce became the jurying body who validates the exhibition. I find it immensely interesting, this process of iconising in a country whose Islamic traditions have never allowed to do so. I just love Dubai so much.

Lantian Xie's work
           We have a spoiler section at the end of this post; hope you enjoy what you see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The City Where North Becomes South in an Eye Blink

From one of the venues for the film
Second day in Dubai, and things are getting sorted with the speed of light. That's how things happen here; such as the key location I chose for my film, turning into a cycle track with massive banners, accompanied by picnic tables in a finger snap! I have changed my opinion about how I see Dubai; it is no longer an appropriation land art project for me, it is rather a life-long performance work that ceaselessly deconstructs itself, and shines through its ashes like a phoenix! Traffic is participating to this interactive piece with literally having their corner chopped off for the 400 Days Project. Although I've got furious about the mutation of the film location for a short time, I then decided to take this as the classical challenge I always come across in my films: Such as the unforeseen three year-old Sigurast, or the unsteady Scottish weather; and this is the unsteady and unforeseen Dubai landscape.

This is what the abandoned tv tower have become of: Good for the space, good for others; but very bad for my self satisfaction and a stumble for my obsessive filming plans. Fortunately, film is the art of cheating.
The Traffic team is as fantastic as ever; I am tired of thanking, but they are never tired of running around for us, in amongst thousand other projects! Moreover, we have been given the fanciest place to stay. The photos below are not taken from a Hollywood film, it is indeed our warehouse bedroom; it is the legendary Satellite! I have always been very intrigued about the Al Quoz industrial area, and now staying at the belly button of it. It never sleeps, so we take the sounds of the factory machines and ground drills as our nursery rhymes.

I have been asked to participate to a Pecha Kucha night in Dubai, at a sweet, partially outdoor cafe/library/workshop/everything venue in Safa Park. The preparation took time, so I couldn't write any post here yesterday. I would like to thank Tom for enabling me to write this blog tonight, as he is helping me out with the images for the presentation. THANKS TOM!

When we don't travel around to find the remaining materials needed, or to find out what has changed at the filming locations, we remain at Traffic and collect/carry hundreds of stones of various sizes under the sun. This act might sound futile as ever, but it is no different than any other labourious project I take on, which, by a stretch of the imagination, might be likened to the life of a construction worker. This somehow reminded me of the days I used to carry buckets of water to my Glasgow tower in Bastakiya. 

Yesterday we also met Aman, the other residency artist whose project I am slightly jealous of. (It's a nice type of jealousy) He uttered a sentence: "Dubai is constructing its future, present and past all at the same time." What a simple and smart statement! Just so beautiful...

The news bomb of yesterday is our perfect find of a protagonist: Ghulam, I feel, will be an excellent match for the role. I was desperately grumbling to Rami about our lack of an actor, because we needed to confirm someone for all the filming permits that had to be arranged. Then Rami said "Come with me" in an extremely determined manner. Tom and I followed him. He turned right, and right again. We saw four Pakistani men eating on the pavement. Rami asked them whether any one of them would be interested in acting in a film. And Ghulam took the lead and answered for all the rest's behalf. It wasn't the looks, wasn't the charisma that drove me to him as the director, but his confidence in communicating with us and his outgoing character took the role from my hands, and placed it to his. All of these happened in exactly four minutes! I'm very happy with our decision. I am hoping we can practice the role a bit tomorrow, as Ghulam always hangs out around Traffic, we are so lucky!

We also have a cat actress, Tara. She is so giant and beautiful; apparently as easygoing and calm! Basically she is a BFG! Can't wait to meet Tara, as we should probably introduce ourselves and the uncomfortable bird-cage prior to filming. Whoever is reading this text, could you please touch wood for me? Everything is going so well until now, I would really appreciate a communal touch-wood ritual to keep things going on the track. As a Turkish person, I'm proud of living with my superstitions.

Tara on the left