Saturday, 12 November 2011

Wild Arabia - Oman

First of hopefully a few shoots on this new BBC series looking at the Arabian Gulf.

A lovely story following a father and son as they prepare for the annual camel races around the Eid festival.
The father ‘Salif’ and his son ‘hussar’ were two of the gentlest, quietest people I have met. They had a lovely way with their camels and were a pleasure to be around. Getting any form of excitement or passion out of them though was a task we were never quite able to achieve!
Most mornings started at 4 and we drove through the starlit night, pausing at the garage for a hot, sweet sort of drink, then at ‘Joss’s place’ a wonderfully smiley, papa New Guinean looking fellow. Who deflated our tires for the desert every morning and reinflated them in the evening on our way out… a great little niche business.

The dunes were stunning. Endless waved and swells of golden crystalline sea.
The first few mornings we got Saif’s eldest son Abdullah to drive us into the dunes. An incredibly skilled driver. I watched closely and after a good long period of study…. 2 minutes, declared that I could do it.
I couldn’t and got stuck…
2 hrs digging later, Hussar (the 10 yr old) extricated us….
Manliness levels at all time low (that is till later in the week when we tried to trot on the camels and my manliness and manhood both took a battering).
Driving inadequacies aside, the morning’s were lovely as we tried to capture the beauty of the pre dawn light, with father and son sat with their coffee pot on the fire, camels moored behind them and the call to prayer drifting in over the sands from a distant mosque.
There’s a glorious 2 to 3 minutes as the still soft ball of sun crests the far off mountains and sits Buddha like and majestic behind the camp fire, before it ignites into fiery splendor.
I am generally blue arse flying it at this point to reap as much as I can.
We would then work with the guys as they rode their camels off into the sand sea. Using a long, long lens I would try and anticipate where they would pop up and try and stick a frame around the glorious curves.
I also had the steadicam with me. A magical toy, but back breaking and a pig to use. You stumble around like a poisoned tortoise, the very antithesis of grace, yet the results (inshallah) are these dream like floaty desert scenes of wonderful fluidity…
As the sun got hot and light became harsh we would either recce locations or head back to Jos for reinflation then breakie and hotel, before heading out later.

The food out and about was great. Abdullah our guide, guided with a rod of iron. And we were very very much told where we were going and what we were eating.
This was usually a Pakistani restaurant. Usually full of colour, people and good

The food was excellent. Dahls, mutton and flat breads all eaten with the hand (our own)…yum!
We managed to see two unseasonal weather types. Both falling in the ‘ well I haven’t seen this since 1932’ categories.
Incredible sandstorms every afternoon (To be fair these weren’t uncommon just unseasonal). Filming a train of camels fighting through the blizzard, turbans flapping looked incredible yet played dangerous games with the kit.
We filmed a bit every day of the sand and built up a nice sequence but lordy we had some cleaning to do every evening. And not just the kit, sand in every orifice god had gifted us with.
Then towards the end of our trip…the sand storms ended and the rains began!
Yes and not just ‘oh look at that its raining, rain’ but ‘holy Maloney there are cars floating through the city’ rain.
Still. Washed the sand out of the cameras.
And so we come to the camel races that Salif and Hussar had been training for. These were on the edge of the towns, one each day over the Eid season. For the biggie we had hundreds of people lining the track..even woman! (Strange, shy creatures, rarely seen, fairly rare and often dressed in exquisite cloths’ s and wearing batman masks….maybe an interpretation of their true origin).
The different tribes or clans or stables would ride up the track singing their arrival, then gather at one end until you had a huge flock of camels and white clad, bearded, dagger wielding men.
I would drink their coffee. They would refuse mine. A friendly pattern formed.
Two camels would be brought forward and made to sit, then the jockeys upon a command would leap on the backs and in unison tear down the track, with the idea being to be in complete synchronicity  (bit like synchronized swimming).
Sometimes this worked, although often the camels would go a bit special and tear into the crowd.
Initially the locals – people and camels- wouldn’t let us get anywhere near the action, but then we started dressing local styley and all was good. Camels ignored us, locals welcomed us….ish.
Sue was making the film about the film so all our rubbish attempts to film and ride and in fact simply just ride were caught. Chaddon was filmed shampooing a camel for show day and I was clearly filmed once again digging a car out of the desert!
Fascinating shoot. Looking forward to exploring Arabia more.

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