The chances are by the time you discover and read this post or just head straight to the music-free Vlog/Dispatch I’ve made (below) to replace an out-dated and music-overkilled trailer I’ll either be on my way to Iraq and Kurdistan, there filming, or even back in my “Safe European home” out on the North-Eastern frontier of Denmark. Although with the fall-out from Britexit looming, I do wonder for how much longer that’ll be, before I’m forced to return to a disunited kingdom that I have very little respect for..
It’s been more than 20 years since I first met a former humanitarian-aid convoy driver and footballer from Hatfield who went by the name of Scotty Lee in a legendary Sarajevo basement bar.
20 years since I started filming with him – and I do mean with him because the best films are always made with people – and the charity that he’d created in response to the horror and legacies of the Bosnian war: Spirit of Soccer.
Over the years since then, I’ve been trusted enough at several points in my life – I don’t tend to use the term “career” any more – to make 2 broadcast TV films with my subject:
Louder than Bombs! which was set in the immediate lethal post-conflict environment of Bosnia and:
A Different Pitch which filmed while the conflict in Kosovo was still ongoing. A conflict which like all wars had no clear winners and many, many more losers.
Both of these films screened on channel 4 back in the days when TV Executives still allowed outsiders like me into their gold-fish bowl offices, because a bit of “rough” still gave them street-credibility. What’s more we were allowed in to not only drink their Highland Spring Water and discover something that they called a “Latte”, but also got given a chance to make our films and – more importantly – get them seen by a group of people formerly known as an audience.
And now in a totally transformed media landscape, I’m moving towards the end-game of an epic third and final film with Scotty Lee and the Spirit of Soccer that’s called: Minefield.
As for my current assignment?
Well along with all the professional planning and organizing of life and death insurance that’s always needed on such trips, there’s the usual nerves and fears about going back to Iraq again. And then there are the creative doubts about the story I’m telling. Doubts and reservations that soon pass, but which you need to have as an independent film-maker if you’re to avoid lapsing into making Z-list celebrity “War soaps” or dull-but-worthy corporate PR for N.G.O’s.
But this time around it is also a bit of a different ball game.
Because on this trip I’ve also been commissioned to film – and as much as I hate the word – the “content” for an App which will demonstrate Spirit of Soccer’s Mine Risk Education (or MRE) curriculum to coaches and kids in the Middle-East and beyond. The aim being to create a tool that supports SoS’s mission on the planet to:”Enrich and save life through the beautiful game”
And then after what I’m affectionately calling my “plumbing job” because – seriously have you ever tried to find a decent plumber when you need one? – We’ll be heading out on another run-and-gun adventure on a story that I’ve come to realize has no ending. Well at least not in the Hollywood 3-Act sense of the word anyhow.
People regularly ask me now when I’ll stop doing this kind of “stuff” – especially because of what’s happened in my life over the past 3 years. A period during which because of illness, that I’ve had very little contact with my profession. Dealing with cancer – you soon discover – is a full-time job and not just something you can fit into a year planner or production schedule. And even though I’ve carried on filming over those life changing years – both on Minefield and on another project in progress: Legacy of an Invisible Bullet – I’m conscious that the whole film-making “game” has changed in my opinion for the worse.
Becoming in the process – and to play the class-warrior card here – too “posh”, too “academic” and too institutionalized for what I’ve always considered to be an anti-establishment art-form, which at its best was always made by mavericks, heretics, dissidents and outsiders. While the “Act of film-making” itself has become a de-sensitized “bad science” that constructs reality to a formula that has little to do with access or observation and more to do with manufacturing crisis/jeopardy and drama – quite often where there isn’t any. And because the technology now makes everything look like a digital-feature film, we’ve also sadly lost the rawness and rough edges which in the past helped expose human strengths, flaws, truths and failings and not just for exploitative reasons.
I guess in short I just don’t seem to feel the sweat any more..
Nowadays everyone wants to be a star in their own reality TV or cake-baking show and their behaviour as soon as a camera is switched on reflects that. In the age of the “Selfie” it would seem we’re also all Film-makers, Producers, free “Content Providers” Cat photographers, Actors and celebrities – rather than an audience who had proper day jobs.
Which brings me sweetly back to the question: Why do I still bother to do this stuff if I’m so negative about it?
Well there really is a short answer to that which doesn’t need a PhD in constructed reality, or an intellect the size of a football pitch to work out:
I still love film-making.
It’s my job to bare witness, observe, be prepared to be observed and at least try to document the human spirit at it’s best and – just as importantly – at it’s worst.
And that’s never a negative thing.
Because our Pictorial heroes need flaws in their armour if we’re to get close to the truth. And it’s those flaws that makes film-makers human.
But then I also still do passionately believe that a game people play in-between life and death can help make a difference in this world. Even if film-making can’t and – just perhaps – has never done.
But then my gut instincts also tell me that when I’m finally done filming on Minefield – probably back where we started it: on a football pitch at FC Zeljo in Sarajevo – that rather than creating a story with a beginning, middle and end, that we’ll be closing what’s called a “Balkan circle”
And that to use a worn-out footballing cliché’ “at the end of the day” we just might have a half-decent film that’s worth a few hours out of anyone’s life. A film which – even if you hate football – you just might get something out of.
Something that’s rough-edged, sweaty and human.
As the beautiful, awesome hijab wearing footballer Peymen says in my current rough-cut of Minefield, out amid the heat, suicide bombings and sniper threats happening in her home-town of Kirkuk:
“When you can’t speak, English or Arabic or Kurdish – when you play football, you can explain everything…”