I was given the task of capturing a Palestine that nobody has seen before for a mini documentary and a promotional advertising campaign for US Television. I wasn’t there to change peoples’ minds about the issues in the area; I was there to use my skills to show the Palestine that has never been seen by Western audiences. The campaign is centered around Palestine’s quest for statehood.
The ‘Palestine Is Ready’ project was by far the most challenging and rewarding shoot of my career so far. As a filmmaker you can have the best storyboards before you arrive in country but making the scenes actually happen on the ground is a different thing all together. We were arriving into Palestine during the Islamic period of Ramadan. The majority of the population were fasting, which meant people were reducing their activities during the daytime. Not great when you have a shot list that required securing before returning back to the UK.
You have to be in two different mindsets when filming for documentaries and promotional advertising. Usually when I am filming TV advertisements back home, I have numerous amounts of camera and lighting gear with me. In Palestine, I was filming for both documentary and TV advertising. With me, I had my field kit including reflector, a battery operated camera light and filters. I always said I like challenges and this certainly was a big one! During the first week in country, it was becoming more obvious to me that we needed to have more control over staging the scenes for the advertisement. This meant that I could light the scenes as best of my abilities and brief the actors properly before the camera was rolling. We faced harsh lighting issues throughout most of the day so we tried to schedule the staged promotional shoots at later periods when the sun was at its lowest and less powerful. There were many occasions where I wished for more ND filters to slot into the Matte box but you have to work with what you have at the time.
Most of my storyboard ideas and concepts are usually generated from music that I listen to. One morning, whilst listening to a very uplifting track from Shockwave-Sound (which I subsequently purchased for the TV advertisement) I came up with a sequence for the TV Spot. I imagined an old man standing, gazing out into a brown, unfertile land, representing the old Palestine. He has seeds in his hand which he scatters onto the ground. Consequently the land turns green with crops and a young boy walks through the fields, stops and looks up at the Palestinian flag (representing the new Palestine). To be totally honest, I didn’t think we could pull this off, this was a very ambitious concept and I knew how difficult it was to get anything done in the country, especially during Ramadan.
Luck was definitely on our side as we managed to find both an old man and young boy willing to help us out. During the filming of a wide shot of the old man staring out with the Palestinian flag in the ground, we heard somebody speaking Arabic through a mega phone. An Israeli military vehicle was parked on the other side of the fence and they had an instant disliking over the flag being planted. But I got the wide shot and we moved away out of sight of the army to collect the next sequences. Whilst filming a tracking shot of the old man throwing the seeds, I noticed an Israeli army foot patrol coming towards us. They were obviously curious as to who we where and what we were doing. The patrol came closer but stopped to watch for a few minutes and returned back the way they came. I remained composed and got the remainder of the shots I needed, jumped in the back of the pickup and left the area with the memory cards in my underpants.
As mentioned before, the project was challenging but I was extremely happy with the footage I collected over the two week duration. I always say that if you can film in the Middle East/ North Africa, you can film anywhere! At times it’s very frustrating, but at times you find yourself awe struck at the beautiful environments you are working in.