Wednesday, November 30, 2005

At the Festival...Films! Directors! Press!

Peter Scarlet sits with Lenina, George and Diana at the press conference for "Man Push Cart," a film by Ramin Bahrani in competition at the festival. All the students attended the screening and were lucky enough to be able to speak with the director about the long road from making a film to making a festival. Ramin was our Farsi-English translator during the Abbas Kiarostami workshop sessions.

Photoessay: Late Night Editing

by Mohamed Achaour
Late Night Editing: It's in the eyes

Diana Simo

Lenina Nadal, Views of Marrakech November 9-28

Here in New York: Mon. Nov. 28th
So, here I am again, back to teaching about Latinos throughout the U.S., the struggles of immigrants here, and conflicts on the border. I'm back to long conversations on my cell phone and the pervading clouds of business and anxiety that I call home. I have a film to finish, lots of footage, waiting for me to come and knit it into a story. When I close my eyes and take a moment I remember the lessons of filmmaking from Marrakech.

My film was on text messages. My first stab at a narrative film. It was quite simple and sappy, with tenderness. It is based on the several messages my boyfriend and I had been sending to each other. Him, in an AOL office in corporate New York, me, on the streets of horse carriages and motorcycles in Marrakech. It is the mobile, the ability to reach one another anywhere in seconds that keeps the relationship moving as fast as the love notes we send.

My film the first week was on palm trees. Now back in New York, I look at the footage and wonder when I will get an Arabic translator, and a moment to discover the stories in my footage. The thought excites me. I am filled with sadness at the end of this journey. But like Kiorostami's roads, if you travel on them long enough, they tend to wind, bend, intersect and if you are lucky you find a new place and if you are lucky you end up right back where you started.

Sunday Nov. 13
Our second day with world renowned director Abbas Kiarostami has led to further investigation of the simplicity of cinema. We have learned that great cinema is a process of stripping away to the core. Some of us began our projects of telling the stories and myths that surround the life of the mobile phone, a technology that through its flight and portability has transformed the essence of how we communicate. Cell phones need to be taught a protocol for etiquette. From mobilizing flash mobs for street protests to romances over a text message, they have built paths and roads on invisible waves of light. We also discussed Kiarostami's poetic piece on the threat of nuclear devastation entitled Roads of Kiarostami. Many of us were mesmerized by the images of winding roads up mountains, the contrasts between light and dark, the bristling of the trees which came alive through subtle dissolves and slow camera movements. Kiarostami is teaching us not only to be better filmmakers, but to be better poets, better observers of life and more careful with its representation. It is not enough for the images to please us, they must provoke us, they must captivate us like an old storyteller who shares not only a tale but also a legendary philosophy. It reminds me of a pop song by C&C music factory, we might say, "Things that make you go hmmmm..."

More writing...

Wed. or Thurs, Nov. 9,10th
So, most of us, the students, have been going out with cameras and mics to a place called Jemaa al Fna Square, an old marketplace which mixes the industrial and the modern with the sights and sounds of folk musicians, storytellers and carts of fruits with DVD vendors and reggaeton music. Beggars, magicians, tarot card readers take space and time as carriages roll by. It’s like Times Square in the 1900s.

Today I went shooting with my partner, Nour-Eddine to the Palmerie. The Palmerie is a place in Marrakech where there is no more irrigation, and flies flock to the faces of little children who roam a playground of decaying palm trees. Nour-Eddine and I filmed some of the trees. Some looked like a mother with children, others fell over leaning on a wall of what is being considered the hottest new real estate in Marrakech. When you leave the new city, where we are staying, and begin to travel to the Palmerie, you see the class differences clearly. In the new city, the tourists enjoy the most lavish and majestic scenery I have ever seen, the oriental dream; the gorgeous arches, the rich colorful lemon, golden and pink tiles, waterfalls and spas to bathe. The gardens are as rich as the gated communities in Puerto Rico. And now as they set up for the International Film Festival, I feel like I’m on the set of an Afro centric Puff Daddy video equipped with flowing orange and red material everywhere, red carpets and beautiful people.

But as I drive out to Palmerie, the "Hollywood" splendor peels away and reveals a world that is still unforgiving to the poor. One turn to the left as you enter the Palmerie and you are in the budding Club Med, a corporation holding on deeply to the faith that cheap property will lead to prosperity and soon the poor will just vanish. But if you keep driving you will see the real palmerie. It is a home to many families who will not go anywhere unless pushed. We spoke with one. A man and his family who has lived in the palmerie for 35 years. He has seen the trees flourish with irrigation, then just years later sag in the dirt that resembles cracked skin. He has watched his children suffer, not enough food and water. Yet, like the jibaros (Caribbean countryfolk) alive and imagined, this family served us delicious mint tea and let us into their home without a moment's hesitation.

But then I felt completely alone for a moment. I could not talk to Nour-Eddine or the people because he speaks Arabic to everyone, and I do not know the language. I wanted to do more things but I could not communicate with him, nor him with me. I hate that I cannot understand the language. I have footage of this interview and I don't really know at all what was said. I trust it is interesting, I pointed to " worthwhile" in my French-English dictionary and asked Nour-Eddine if he thought it was worthwhile and he said yes, very much so. The older man told his story or perhaps a story he thought we may have wanted to hear. I don’t know. But his son, a boy of three told me what I wanted to know. He said these trees give us life; they give us leaves with which we make baskets, and fruit to sell and eat. Nour-Eddine smiled. I continued shooting the trees as I had the little children chase me around. La- no, nam-yes, Ana ismi Lenina, my name is Lenina. This is all I can remember of Arabic, so it was hard to speak to the children. Lots of smiles and peek-a-boo games, and blindly letting them show me around their playground. I thought so much of Puerto Rico, I don't care what anyone says, if you grow your children in the countryside where there are trees and animals, big families and little room, they seem happier. They lack the glum faces of five year olds from the Upper East Side whining for new stationary and ipods. These see the trees for what they are, nurturers, givers of life and opportunity, even as they decay, they offer something profound. We sat in a circle today and I wrote this poem. People liked it when I read it.

I told my professor my one word for Marrakech is spirit
outside my hotel window the palm trees speak French
they try to communicate
because in their story is my blood
but I cannot
because my blood speaks Spanglish
and wants to claim Morocco
reclaim Morocco with my name
the people say I look Moroccan
but I can only say shukran, waha, bonjour, laila saida, merci
I carry words in my backpack and seek their roots

The first day I was here a woman took the back of my palm without permission and drew a henna flower, it means good luck, the end of grieving, the beginning she said and then, not so kindly, said PAY ME in perfect English,
her son tugging at my skirt, me too!
This same type of pull makes me follow the truth of the Moroccan palm trees. limada- why? limana- why not?
I bite my hair when nervous, need to connect to the roots
merengue comes from North African dance, drums and hips I know too well,
the women here look and dance like me, hug like me.
Something in
Morocco is the roots
Some say fear the trees- this is where the spirits of the dead hide
fear the children near the trees because they are too close to the world of spirits,
fear the old, because they will soon enter back and begin a new
fear the trees
but they keep me up at night with their voices!!
Beg me, tug at me like the henna vendor to tell their story
and as a documentarian I will listen, not to the language but to the smiles, to the eyes, to the playfulness of the trees and those people who still live beside them, taking them in like an old grandmother who cannot speak or walk, who may seem worthless, but the children see as a precious jewel.
I cannot fear the trees, I cannot fear this country, because here there is life and life is spirit and spirit is life.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Field Trip to the Ourika Valley

On the last day of the program, with films finished and with very little sleep, the participants took a day to see the country. The Atlas Mountains are just a one and a half hour drive from Marrakech.
Maria Karim sits in a colorful living room high up in the Atlas Mountains. Though it seems she is alone, the group has only just left it. The group was invited by our waiter at a nearby cafe to come see his home and meet his family. We had stopped at the cafe to eat tagines in the traditional manner (no utensils, just hands and bread.) Many agreed it was the best meal we had had thus far - definitely the most authentic.
To get to the waiter's house we climbed steps that seemed to continue to emerge from the ground just as soon as we thought we'd reached the end of them. They were indeed the same color as the earth and were of it--the clay of the earth covers the rocks with which the houses are built. At this kind gentleman's house he played us music on an instrument that looked exactly like an American banjo (but it was tuned to a different key) and everyone sang along and played what they could find (knees, drums, snapping fingers, etc.) We drank a traditional mint tea and the American students sang a few tunes they knew. Many agreed this was a necessary trip after such an intense schedule of classes and filming.

Diana, James, George's back and Seifollah filming each other filming with the mountains behind them. A testament to the documentary-based philosophy that seemed prevalent among the professors.

Maria, Hakim and Diana, happy to be out of the classroom in the Atlas Mountain sun.

The Berry
photos by Maria Karim

Little children sold us baskets of berries on the shoulder of the road in the valley of Ourika. These delicate fruits taste like strawberries and have twice as many seeds.


Maria over river

The berries bounce down rocks towards the river

Ourika Valley courtesy of Diana Logreira

I feel like we're walking off a red-carpeted plank into the ocean of our former lives.
And what if I don't want to find my way back to America?
-Alana (on not having a pink hat to follow back to America)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here is the group the first week, ready to spring into action, as it were, posing for their official portrait with photographer Hamid Bechiri.

Take flight

The Players

Faical Laraichi, director of Moroccan Television and advisor to the King Mohamed VI, screens a filming of a Royal Procession that he directed. Everyone here has a little director in him. It is really thanks to Mr. Laraichi - the man with the plan - that this whole program happened. He calls himself the "white wolf," because he's there behind the scenes, making the impossible possible. Looks and sounds like a great director to me.

Jalil Laguili from the Festival, who was indispensible in making this workshop happen, with Sydney Meeks.

Director and Professor Hakim Belabbes

Professors Mick and Katherine Hurbis-Cherrier

Director Ali Essafi

Director Khalil Benkirane

Ali Elazkem, translator extraordinaire, stretching in his translating booth.

The Tribeca Team

Madelyn Wils, CEO of Tribeca Film Insitute

Peter Scarlet and Katayoun Beglari-Scarlet
See interviews above on the origins of the program
James Sweetbaum, Technical Assistant and Final Cut Pro instructor

The trifecta from Tribeca Simona Schneider, Documentarian/Program Assistant, Diana Odasso, Program Coordinator, and Sydney Meeks, Director of Programming for TFI (from left to right)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Roads of Kiarostami

Paths are key to poets and artists as they naturally help to tell a story and to visually give perspective. The highest commonality between us is that we are on a road that goes nowhere. On paths. In Kiarostami's case, on paths through wide fields, valleys, mountains and snow. In Kiarostami's film "The Roads of Kiarostami," the camera follows paths on still photograph and then opens up to context, questioning if context matters at all, and simultaneously showing the absolute beauty that surrounds a man on his journey - saying, what could be more important? High contrast with lines that are sometimes jet black through snow, or stark white, his photographs reveal paths of light in canyons. These are mostly double paths created by wheels in this vast nowhere, how else would you get there? The wheels reveal at least a nod towards modernity, and the surroundings reveal an unconcern for civilization. Striped hills. Paths in snow like ski slopes, so stark straight and black and white, like electrical wires, grim, no spectrum, grave from the rule of gravity (Though this starkness is heavy in black and white, the film has a lightness of mist and grain too). The narrator/poet says, “The paths we draw on the earth are like tiny scratches, but we have other paths inside us, ways of love, ways of escape....ways which destroy us, ways without conclusion like stagnant water...” and then the plastic bag rolls lightly through one of the slits in the fence. The road is man. Set to a rather baroque musical score, the images become a kind of ballet.
At the end the image burns; The only color in the film, a nuclear mushroom cloud is a monochromatic orange, warning the viewer of the fragility of these images. (The final dog is ghostly, like the images one sees of the victims of Hiroshima.) The film was made for the 2005 Green Film Festival in Seoul, Korea.

Q+A on Kiarostami’s “The Roads of Kiarostami”

Q: Why at the end does the path dissapear? I noticed that in only one shot there is the trunk of the tree and the shadow of the branches, but no path. Even when we see no path in some other shots, but we see more than one tree, there is an implied path - we still see a place to walk.

A: I didn’t want to limit myself only to paths like these. Do you think if you eliminate that part you would have any problems with the rest? Since I am sitting in a teacher’s seat, I will tell you: Don’t see it that way, look at it as a whole. Say we elimate that part, would it be a perfect work?

Q: No.

A: So you must learn to look at the work as a whole. If the problem is just a single tree or one image, than you could impose just a few blank scenes, or edit it out, but that does not change the work as a whole. If it wasn’t a problem why aren’t you talking about the whole film? If you see a beautiful face, don’t single out a birth mark and just talk about that single trait. Talk about the face.


Q2: Me, I saw the poetry, it was a poem. Why did you burn the poem at the end?

A: My interest was to create worries and anxiety about the future of the world. After Hiroshima no one talked about the wing of a butterfly.

A: As students we must learn how to see before we can create. We must learn to look at the world in a more poetic way...

The last image was a dog looking at the camera, or at us. When the image burned while filming it surprised me, I thought the dog was alive. It was not an image anymore.

Q: It reminded me of how sometimes things look so wide and empty and deep.
Would you want to address on something about the “god’s voice” or voiceover? (Referring to a prior comment by Kiarostami that a "God's Voice" or voiceover narration is artificial in film.)

A: There is no absolute definition of anything. Everything if it is relevant can be changed and modified. And I’m glad you asked that question because I can easily change my mind. My point is that you can easily change your opinion and mind also. In this case I was talking about my own photography and why I do photography. In this film I was talking about myself, so let’s imagine that the camera is on me but I omitted my face. As much as I have the right to an interview to talk about myself, you can see this the same way. There is nothing wrong in narration. But even the worst thing, like a “god’s voice voiceover,” if you use it properly in the right place can make sense. Nothing is wrong.

Nour-Eddine shows Moroccan flag colors, coincidentally, tomorrow is Moroccan independence day

Youssef edits his "animated" cell phone story while Nour-Eddine and Kim look on

Bouchra edits her film with Chris

Karima logs her footage: It's her first time using Final Cut Pro, but she gets the hang of it quickly. C'est la premier fois que Karima utilise Final Cut Pro, mais elle se debrouille tres bien.

Salima and David get out there razor blade frame by frame

Around 4 AM the students were still editing and the candles were still burning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Maroc television 2M came to interview me about the blog. It's airing tonight at 11:30. Rachid Zaki de 2M, television Marocain, est venu pour faire un entretien avec moi sur le sujet du blog (celui que vous lisez.) Ca passera normalement ce soir a 23h30.

Alana et David aide Layla sur le shoot.

Layla Triqui realise son film avec son mari et acteur connu Mohamed Marwazi

Meanwhile, the festival rages outside the classroom walls

Straight shooter (pic by Youssef Barrada)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

November 14th, 2005 by David Pavlosky

It's been a busy day today. At nine-thirty this
morning I finished the storyboard for my short
"Connections." The scene takes place in a stairwell
where the signal is inconsistent and causes two
strangers to meet. I will shoot with Layla and Alanna
first thing tomorrow morning.

Two fellow filmmakers screened their films and several
others left to shoot this afternoon. The classroom is
a constant hub of activity. In class we screened
"Close Up" with Abbas Kiorastami--it is a fantastic
film. Mr. Kiarostami reminded us that when we are
shooting that the performances of our actors should be
captured and not be representations of the characters
they are playing--something to keep in mind on
tomorrow's shoot.

In the early evening Martin Scorsese joined us and we
could easily see the energy and passion that he has
both in his work, and obviously in his life. He was
warm and generous with insight and life experience. It
was a class that could have easily continued well into
the morning had his scheduled allowed. It was both an
indescribable and unforgettable experience.

Diana editing a film with Mr. Kiarostami

It looks like a film set, naturally found (without any set up) at the Jemaa al Fna. (Following pictures of Diana's shoot are by Ruomi L-H)

Diana on the set

Diana's Shoot Out

Scorsese Master Class: Dancing Scorsese film strip

We thank Scorsese not only for the time he spent with us, but also for acting in one of the filmmaker shorts about cell phones. Mr. Scorsese was subjected to a cell phone ringing in the middle of the class. And no one seemed to know where it was. Everyone looked around guiltily and accusingly at the same time. But no one moved to turn the phone off. Finally it stopped. The class resumed. At the end of the class, Ahmad Kiarostami stood up and thanked Mr. Scorsese for an oscar-winning performance. But he didn't even know it was happening! That's the point as we learned from both filmmakers. Non-actors who play themselves are the best actors, as long as you're a good caster. As Scorsese told us during the class, in Raging Bull all of the handlers were Jake Lamotta's original handlers. No one could play them better than themselves.

Martin Scorsese gave a master class that spanned the topics of the history of cinema, editing, sound, directing actors and non-actors, screenwriting, and even special effects. Mr. Scorsese brought in his original storyboard for the final fight scene in raging bull, which he drew himself. He identified the feeling in the drawings as impetus for the emotion in a scene. It was conveyed even if he wasn't a master draftsman, and his cameraman could read the intention in the drawings. He was sensitive to the effect to the extent that such a difference was felt even in the weight of the pencil with which he drew. All of his storyboards used to be thick and dark, and dramatic, but now the pencil company has started to water-down the lead and it no longer gives the same effect. After all the information and techniques passed on to us, the anecdotes, laughs and even scenes we saw, it’s amazing to think he was really only there for three and a half hours.

Mr. Scorsese commands respect for his commitment to seeing contemporary international films, and for bringing foreign and classic film to the attention of American audiences for the first time through his “Journeys Through Cinema” and through “Martin Scorsese Presents…” At the festival Scorsese programmed “Transes,” a film about the Moroccan band Nas el Ghiwane. Among other international and independent films he spoke of, Scorsese took some time today to speak about “ABC Africa,” a joint film by Abbas Kiarostami and Seifollah Samadian, shot for United Nations' Intl. Fund for Agricultural Development.

“It was the best film that I saw spanning two years,” he said. “In experiencing the film with the filmmakers, and through the digital camera, you live it with them and they don’t get in the way.

“The images allow you to think… not even to think, but to feel. TV is an unfeeling medium. When you turn on the news, even the news about New Orleans, its all a show. People get inured to it. ‘ABC Africa’ isn’t a show, the filmmakers are there in every sense.”

Scorsese also spoke about the widening difference between independent and Hollywood films. Taxi Driver was an underdog script; they never foresaw it having the impact it did and thus made it for their own pleasure. But smaller films could still have wide distribution in those days. Scorsese remarked on the difference in filmmaking climate between filming “Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York” by saying, “I always try to make large pictures that will reach a large audience, but that still have the personal element like an independent film. In the ‘70s that was possible. It is much harder now.”

Of “Raging Bull” Scorsese talked at length of the shots and formal decisions. He said that he decided he had to do it in black and white because, he said, “Can you imagine the red of those gloves? How could you take the film seriously? It also gives the film the sense of a tabloid newspaper.”

But like every great artist, left us with mysteries and questions that perhaps even he did not know the answers to, particularly on the sound in the film: “Frank Warner, the sound editor, did a great thing. He got sounds from animals for the ring when everything is happening in slow motion: elephants, tigers and some sounds of which he never revealed the sources. The effect is subtle and yet tremendous.”