A Filmstar in the Forbidden Cities

My film star days are officially over, alhamduallah. In March they were having serious trouble getting permission to film on the coast and saying all sorts of exciting things about Turkey, Abu Dhabi and Morocco. By July Syria had got used to the situation. While in the beginning Damascus was dead, people were unwilling to travel from one side to t´other and no one did anything that wasn’t essential, by July the wasn’t a restaurant in the city showing Al-Jazeera or BBC Arabic, but life was continuing again. Also probably cus it´d annoy my friends and me, we were given permission to spend a weekend filming in Baniyas and Lattakia.


After we’d finished work, we missioned through Damascus, The Fixer marshalling his foreign friends as extras before heading north. Our driver got a bit lost in Lattakia, where we glimpsed several tanks and tank sized sandbag encampments through the otherwise deserted night, before arriving at a 5 star beach resort. Talk about how the other half live. My room was almost as big as my flat, but then again with a list price of $300 a night I suppose you’d expect a lot. The three Jermaanarites were particularly impressed. We’d kind of forgotten that showers are supposed to spurt rather than dribble, and I had my first bath since leaving the UK.


I had time to study on the beach (alas, having been forced into make up I had to limit myself to paddling) before we were rounded up and sent to Banyas. Again, we got lost. I suspect the driver as interested as seeing the ‘forbidden cities’ as we were. In the bits of Lattakia we passed there were lots of Bashar posters but not much that was more sinister than that. Banyas was a different story. Every intersection had a checkpoint; lots of corner flats had been commandeered and turned into observance posts. Some had had walls ripped out to allow the solders better views. At one of the checkpoint a young man with an arm in plaster had been detained, but convoys of chanting youths were let through. Our driver brazenly asked the solders for directions, who in best Middle Eastern style were all sure it was in different places. The worst of it was the people. We drove past long lines of angry, sullen silent people who were unimpressed by our SUV. It felt like the city had been fighting a civil war that had temporarily been forced on hold and it was pretty clear that some horrible things had happened in the divided coastal cities.


It turned out we were filming outside the city at some oil refinery, but it was the first set that actually had enough places to sit, and the sea breeze meant my Ottoman gear was bearable and although it was a long, boring day half of us got our filming done. The other half of us didn’t film at all, and never could have done.


Back at the hotel; Lattakia’s rich were filling the seafront restaurants in little dresses and suits that were for all I know Armani. I liked being by the sea, The Fixer liked looking at the girls and ‘passivity brown’ was living up to his name so we decided to stay in 5 star, air con, bikini world that we found ourselves in. Unfortunately the film crew had other ideas and at 12 on Friday summoned us instantly and ordered us into the car to collect the others and take em back to Cham. The Fixer was asleep, I was in the pool, the film crew was furious we weren’t leaving 5 minutes after their order had been delivered. A far bigger delay was due to the film crew having got permission for our characters names to go through the checkpoints. Inexplicably these names are not the ones in our passports.

When we got to set, without a diversion to Banyas this time, we discovered the film crew had played a horrible trick on us and the boat set was just sailing away with our friends on it. I went swimming, with 19 guys all lined up on the harbour wall, waiting for mew to drown and be rescued. Spoil sport that I am I didn’t endanger my life in anyway. Several hours of studying and bitching about the film crew (the others have all been bit parts in films before. They say these guys are the worst they’ve worked with) later the boat brought our friends back and we were off home. We’d not had any food and we didn’t have permission to stop off in any of the coastal towns and buy any, but worse was to come. They promised to pay us the following Sunday. Ahmed the eternal optimist, so called because he believes in film companies and governments, who we’re hired through, couldn’t contact them. Silence. Ahmed being the optimist he is, with a fortnight till Ramadan and filming not yet completed assumed they were too busy to pay us. We’ve now had 2 weeks of Ramadan, we’ve, been on TV, but they´re a month behind schedule and still filming and I sill want my cash.


Author: adventuresinarabic

I'm studying Arabic in Damascus, living through the Arab Spring and blogging about my experiences hear.

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