Thursday, 25 November 2010

To Paris And Avignon

I travel to Paris for the first time in around 17 years. The last time I was here, my friend was attacked in the streets - blood pooling on the pavement - and taken to hospital. I watched, stunned. This time was much less dramatic. I fell asleep on the train in London (slept only four hours, in fits, the night before ) and woke up in Paris. I texted Mohanad, another Palestinian filmmaker, previously living in London, now living in Paris on an artist's residency.

We walked through the halls of his dormitory (once a hospital - perhaps that's the connection to my previous visit to Paris) and spoke about revolutionary cinema. He referes to Paris 1968, and the Palestine Film Unit, the use of the image, propaganda, structuralism, Vertov and the notebook. But Mohanad says the spirit of the artist is dead. This is the building where the students of 1968 would meet, in the common room. But they closed the common room then, and it never opened again. Now the students here talk about art, he says, but without the same spirit.

We get a visit from Dominique, himllef of the era of French revolutionary film. Now his focus is Palestinian cinema. He wears round glasses and drinks herbal tea. He draws a timeline on the wall of Mohanad's studio.

Later, around the corner from Mohanad's flat, we meet Raed, also a Palestinian filmmaker. We sit drinking coffee and beer and eating falafal. Are we "a movement" now? The three of us? Three Palestinian documentary filmmakers in Paris? I will say that we were, suddenly and temporarily, a movement. We have yet to decide on a name. We talk about feature films, Producers, cameras, therapy. We watch films online and get excited by the capacity of other Palestinian filmmakers to create. Even under the most difficult of circumstances. Raed watches the latest material from The Runner and asks me to keep in touch about it. He might know some people who would be interested.

Into the rain, we walk quickly to a bar around the corner. Qadr's bar. An Algerian, Qadr has served and danced with people like Cheb Khaled and Nas El Ghiwan in this tiny bar. We drink Calva - liquor made, I think, from apples? - sipping it in tiny glasses like Moroccan tea. I can barely keep my eyes open, I'm falling asleep.

The next morning, up early again for the train to Avignon. The sun doesn't rise for another hour after I board the train. Like the Eurostar, I fall asleep as soon as we pull out of Gare de Lyon, only managing a few pages of Conversations. Two Egyptians are talking quietly in the seat in front of me. Two French teenagers squeal a loud conversation for the entire journey. But I don't mind. I'm gone. I wake up as we pull into Avignon. In Avignon, the air is beautifully clean. The sun pierces through the thin, cold atmosphere. I haul my luggage and camera equipment into a taxi to meet Salah - in his flat - for the first time since we filmed together in Algeria in February. Now we are about to continue filming. This, I tell myself, is the start of the real production of the documentary. Everything previous was development.

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