Jordan Post #5

24 07 2005

No pictures of my own (the one on the right is borrowed from Mansour Mouasher’s web site), but I went (with Vachon and Ed) to a country fair right outside of Amman the other night. Well, they don’t call it a country fair (it’s called “Global Village”), but that’s what it is, if you combine it with a small World’s Fair as well.

There were large tents for each of the many countries that were participating and many things went on inside. Kuwait had a tent which showed how they were developing and using their resources wisely. Syria had a tent (remember, these were really large tents — think a circus Big Top or CARNIVALE) in which they sold you tons of stuff — mostly cheap tourist things, but also candies and funny dolls. India also had mostly hucksters — Old Navy leather jackets for 60JD (about 100 bucks) since I assume they actually manufacture most of that stuff. There was a hilarious area where the guy was selling slicing and dicing machines like you see on late night television. And there was a kiddie tent. Jordan’s tent sold, like every other place in Jordan, bottles of sand art. Interesting, but it creeps me out whenever I realize I’m thinking of buying one. One step above “My Daddy Went To Jordan and All He Got Me Was This Lousy Tee Shirt” shirts.

Amman's CitadelThe program is winding down from a chronological point of view, but it’s really heating up from the editing side. The students came in yesterday depressed as hell about what they were unable to get on the set — one or two of them had actors that left in the middle of the shoot, another one had her actor goldfish die before shooting, a third was stopped by the police, and on and on. By the end of the day most of them were feeling better about their work, as they began to piece their films together. We have first cut screenings tomorrow (Tuesday) and our final screening at 8pm on Thursday night. After that we head out to the Citadel (the picture on the left gives you a little idea about it), an attraction I have not yet been to see, though it is visible from our classroom windows.

Four more days and then I’m gone. Hopefully, I can come back and continue the work we’ve started here.

Jordan – Post #4

24 07 2005

Street Scene in Downtown AmmanAmman is a never-ending source of surprises. Today I got in the cab to come to class and ended up discussing politics with him. He is a Palestinian who isn’t angry at American policies but is horribly sad that his father’s house and livelihood disappeared when Israel was created in 1948, pushing them off their land. He talked about how, back then, there was no separate Palestine and Jordan, everybody considered everyone else a countryman, and people easily moved back and forth.

That is, of course, all gone.

We’ve had some interesting discussions with the students about politics. All of them feel that Bush’s policies are making things work, but they’re not as angry at him as we are in the States. One of them, Ahmad (see the picture on the right), feels that if the US had never come in, the Iraqis would be killing each other. If they pull out now, the Iraqis will be killing each other. And if we stay, they’ll still be killing each other. He still feels that the oil politics are terrible and that innocent people die because of them, but that there are some things that are intractable.

As for the rest of my stay, it is sad to realize that it will all come to an end here at the end of the week — in a mere four days. The students started editing today and we watched clips from a number of movies that were all about how re-editing works. They all began the day upset about what they didn’t do in their films. By the end of the day, they were feeling more encouraged.

It’s exciting and sad all at the same time, to be coming to an end of this. I’d love to come back again. I hope I can.

Jordan Post #3

21 07 2005

Down a Staircase in Amman
Originally uploaded by Schnittman.

I am ending the second week here in Jordan, busier than ever but disappointed that the time has gone so quickly. The students are out shooting their film today (they have today, tomorrow and Saturday to get their two half-days of shooting done).

It hardly seems possible that we only got here two weeks ago and that we leave in another week. The students have learned so much and I have mixed feelings about the experience. First, I feel that I haven’t done very much learning on my own. I’ve been to Petra and have seen some places that I’ve never seen before in my life, but I wonder if I’m any closer to learning as much about this city and its people, as the students have learned about filmmaking. On the other hand, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the class and the students. We have our big screening a week from today — Thursday night at some Top Secret Location that I’ll probably have to be blindfolded and driven up to. Seven days. Seven days to shoot and edit what have turned into some very personal filmed statements.

To the left, if your margins look something like mine, is a picture specifically designed for Joe. Whenever we’re over at his house, THE GODFATHER seems to be playing on the cable. Well… the other day (one of my first in Jordan) I popped on the television and what do I see? The image to the left (I hope), complete with Arabic subtitles.

Finally, I’ve got one more photo lying around here that I have to upload — the view of Amman from close to the classroom. The building that the classes are in is an old house, which is famed for once having belonged to a high government official who hanged himself. The students pointed out which ceiling hooks he used for the act, but they all pointed out different ones in different rooms, so I’m taking that with a boulder or two of salt.

In any case, the picture is of rooftops near the downtown area of Amman and it’s one of the things that keeps us sane when we’ve been teaching or learning for eight straight hours. A sky as clear as… well… whatever’s supposed to be clear. You don’t even see the 95 degree heat rippling in the air. It’s quite a wonderful site and one I am sure I will miss when I’m back in Lost Angeles.

I’ll keep you posted.

Jordan Post #2

15 07 2005

We celebrated the end of our first week here by taking our only day off (Friday) and taking a three-hour trip down to Petra, one of the most magnificent cities that I’ve ever walked around.

It’s over 2000 years old and is so full of detailed workmanship, and engineering and artistic brilliance, that it must humble anyone living in Los Angeles today (well… actually, anyone today).

I’ve got over 100 pictures that I took yesterday and, after I sift through them and toss away the crap, I’ll upload a few more.

In the meantime, the class is spectacular — the students are incredibly motivated and, for the most part, talented. Helaine, Tom and I are continually tweaking the curriculum as we find out that the students can handle more than we thought. At the end of this week, they shoot their big film!!

I’ll keep you posted.

Jordan — Post #1

11 07 2005

I don’t yet have many photographs of Jordan to upload since I haven’t had access to my computer and the net. Nor because they don’t have access, but because the price of high-speed internet access in my hotel (the lovely Bristol Hotel aka Holiday Inn Amman) is 35 Jordanian Dinar a night. That’s over $50. Should I say that again? FIFTY DAMNED DOLLARS We’ve asked them who would be so stupid as to pay over fifty bucks a night and their answer was “You’d be surprised. Besides, the Sheraton charges 40 JD.”

That’s convincing.

Some of the class attending the first Jordanian Film Commission/USC Workshop
These are some of the students attending the very first day of the very first production workshop run by the Jordanian Royal Film Commission and USC together.

In any case, I got here on Friday night along with two other USC people — Alan Baker, from the Dean’s ofice, and Helaine Head, one of my favorite directing professors on the entire goddamned planet. By Saturday we were up and running.

For the three people in the world who I haven’t told yet — I am here in Amman, Jordan helping to run a pilot program for a projected film school that they want to start in several years. We (Tom Curran is the cinematography teacher) are doing a three week version of USC’s Production I class which I’ve adapted for what is essentially an oral story-telling culture. Each student came to the first day of classes with a story that they will shoot someone telling the camera. They’re shooting that today — Monday. They will edit tomorrow and on Wednesday, they will go out and shoot visual material to complement the story. They will then spend the next week or so writing a narrative version of that story and will shoot it in two half-days. instead of seeing someone say “And then Abed walked through the door” they will have to figure out how to shoot an actor playing Abed coming through the door. In a visually interesting way. Or they will figure out that they don’t need to see Abed go through the door, but can just cut to the next moment.

There are about 14 students in the class and they are amazing people — they have backgrounds from visual design, community organizing as well as some film. But they are all very warm, friendly people.

And that is true of every single person I’ve met here. Now, I don’t speak a word of the language, so I can’t tell what anyone is saying, but everyone has been very helpful — speaking their very good English when they can — and helping me get through the most foreign culture I’ve even been in.

Later on, I’ll talk about this incredible Intel House (a computer camp/day care center) that I visited today with Nadine, the coordinator and go-to person for the program. I’ll post some photos I took with my phone as soon as I upload them. For now, I want to say hello to everyone and I’m doing great. More photos and talk in tomorrow’s (???) post.

Rain and Bombs — London on July 7, 2005

7 07 2005

So, I went out this morning to pick up some coffee for Janet, who was sleeping in, and walked down to the Green Park station where everyone was coagulating around the various entrances, being prevented from entering the station by the London police.

I asked around and a few people mentioned they had heard something about “power surges” but that the Piccadilly line was shut down. By the time I ambled back to the hotel, it was clear that these “surges” were a lot more widespread (and therefore, in my mind, a lot more suspicious) than they originally thought.

There’s a television in the room that, among the various American shows (MTV, CNBC, etc.) also runs BBC. The reports there were not much more dire than those in the street but it quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary day in London. Sure, the city had just won its Olympics bid yesterday, but today it was the home to a series of terrorist bombings.

London — An Update

7 07 2005
On the London 'Underground'

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done an entry here (do I sound like a ten year-old girl’s diary?) and the only excuse that I’ve got is that I’ve been all over this city — from meetings out in Chiswick to walking through Central London while jets screamed overhead celebrating this country’s winning Olympics bid. That, and a slow Internet connection (it’s amazing what passes for high-speed in this hotel).

London Underground sign

In any case, I arrived safe and sound at Heathrow this past Saturday, hopped the Heathrow Express into downtown and walked into the lobby of the hotel to find Janet and Elizabeth waiting there. They weren’t waiting for me, they were waiting for the hotel room to open up. Our early check-in request had been lost in the ether (sending things by email can be wonderful — especially when they came claim they never got it). We checked into one of the tiniest rooms around, which is difficult with an 18 year old (she actually turned 18 on that very day).

However, by Sunday they had put us in a very nice sized suite and we feel very posh right about now.

At the British Museum

It’s been an eventful few days — I’ve seen a multitude of museums (the Tate Modern IS everything it’s supposed to be, and a bag of chips), ate in a multitude of very expensive restaurants (everything is expensive here) and spend a multitude of hours on email planning for this coming three weeks in Jordan.

Phew! That’s a multitude of multitudes.

I’ll be posting some more photos here, but you can also link to many of them at my Flickr site.