Saturday, 20 February 2010

One Hour of Sleep

Our team arrives in the Sahrawi refugee camps in southwest Algeria. My bag is missing. I knew something would happen, when I spent almost an hour checking in. They charged me for excess baggage, and I went to another counter to pay. Then they realised I was still within the limit - they shouldn't have charged me - so I had to go back to the same counter again to get my refund. I then regretted bringing the second tripod, far too heavy and useless for this trip, so we had to unpack and send the tripod downstairs to Left Luggage. Abandoning it, I felt much more efficient, lighter. I should have trusted my instincts, my first thought: not to bring it.

By the time I checked in and put my bag into the oversized belt, I had a feeling something would go wrong. It never made it to Algiers. It never got on the flight from London. The battery charger is our biggest concern, so we plan to be very selective about what we shoot. Never mind a change of clothes...I remember Ken Loach's advice "know exactly what you're going to shoot. Don't shoot too much." and I see the lack of battery charger as an exercise in control and limitations. Like The Five Obstructions.

In the airport, Salah tells me he almost didn't come to Algeria. He wasn't feeling in the right frame of mind to race, and his brother - who just moved to France - is having trouble settling in. But then, he thought, "for the sake of the film I have to come." I like this sentiment, and I know I need to include it in the documentary later.

Salah tells me what it was like in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. The authorities tried to bribe him to be loyal to Morocco, he says. They sent women, honey traps, to convince him. I know this, too, will have to be brought up again, on camera. I start thinking about how much I can ask him at this point in our film, at this point in our understanding of each other (can I call it a "friendship?"). I know there are some questions that will have to wait until we meet again in France, with more time to relax and sit down casually to talk. I enjoy this, getting to know him through the process of making the film. I don't want to know everything at once. Drawing it out. If the film can span the length of time it takes to get to know him, it will be perfectly parallel to the revelation of information, the exposition of story. The two can develop in together.

The crew often asks me "how does he feel about running for Morocco?"
"I don't know"
"Haven't you asked him?"
"No."
"Don't you want to know?"
"Yes."

This becomes the mantra of the trip. "I don't know." It become an automatic reflex. "I don't know." I don't want to know. If I knew everything now, what sort of journey would this be with Salah? Where is the investigation? Where is the unfolding of facts and realisations?

Later thought: I keep saying I don't want it to be a political film, but people keep talking politics. Is this part of the story? Am I forcing something that isn't accurate? (This will come back to bite me in the ass on the last day of the trip...)

Next morning in the camps. Salah is tired. He slept less than an hour last night. "When I'm really tired, I can't sleep," he says, by way of an explanation, but I don't understand. He walks through the camps and runs into friends along the way. He seems heavy, a lot on his mind. He's still not sure what distance he's going to run on the 22nd, asks me "I'd rather run the 5k, but maybe the 10km is better for the film?"

I'm still waiting for my bags, and my energy and enthusiasm, to arrive. Levels are fluctuating wildly: at times I feel I could collapse spontaneously. Other times, walking under the sun with Salah, I forget I'm exhausted and feel I could keep walking beside him forever. I quickly get the feeling that I don't know what I've gotten myself into.

The weather is strange. Very cold in the shade and very hot in the sun. Feels like high-altitude, but Brendan's watch says we're only several metres above sea level. The air seems thin. The sun is hot, but the air reminds you that it's only temporary. Reminds me of how they used to describe Morocco "A cold country with a warm sun." Don't mention Morocco here, I've already been criticised for using Moroccan slang.

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