Days like this are why I love making docs.
They’re frantic, chaotic, unpredictable, exhausting and utterly exhilarating.
We knew today would be jam-packed just from looking at the schedule we put together last night:
4 AM–Chad & Ty wake up to shoot a timelapse sunrise
9 AM–Meet Ahmed and Redda, depart from hotel to shoot b-roll of Alexandria
9:30-11:30 AM–Shoot like crazy in Alex
12:00 PM–Shoot the noon prayer at a mosque in Alex
5:00 PM–Follow team bus to game
8:00-8:45 PM–Photograph first half of Egypt-Mozambique match
9:00-10:00 PM–Film fan reaction at a local cafe
I roused briefly to hear Ty setting up the camera outside at 4 AM and when the alarm buzzed again at 7:30 AM, there he was, playing back the sunrise. Gorgeous. Glad I got to see it, albeit several hours after it happened. We treated ourselves to a room service breakfast, which allowed us to gear up while we fueled up. Ahmed met us downstairs right at 9 and we were off to explore Alexandria.
Alexandria has a rich history that Ahmed educated us all about; unfortunately, I remember none of it and would have to look it up to share it with our loyal readers, which feels a bit like cheating (I chalk this up to being too preoccupied with the shoot to absorb any new information).
What I did know about Alex is that it is an ancient city rich with culture that sits upon the Mediterranean. I had thought our hotel was a bit closer to the sea, but, as of this morning, we had yet to see it. Redda drove us right in through the heart of the city. We traveled parallel to trolley tracks along a wide boulevard where sandstone walls were peppered with tattered political posters from the recent election. At the end of the long block, the beautiful azure waters of the Mediterranean stretched out in front of us. We hooked a right and hugged the coast as we wended our way towards an ancient palace for, as Ahmed says, rulers always picked the best views.
He wasn’t kidding. We set up shop just around the corner from the beautiful Montazah Palace and Gardens and set to work. It was really our first experience shooting in the streets of Egypt and, between Chad’s fancy camera rig and Ty wearing the steadicam harness, we certainly drew some attention. This tends to be the case no matter where we shoot; I always try to remember that if some crazy people showed up on the street of my childhood home with cameras, didn’t speak my language and proceeded to film me, my mom would’ve had every police officer in town there in a matter of moments. Our experience has been that people are just interested and want to know what we’re up to. To the few that spoke English, we explained we were there making a doc about the Pharaohs and their coach, “Captain Bob.” The football-mad locals would then welcome us with open arms.
The welcoming nature of the Egyptian people is something that Coach Bradley talked about in great detail yesterday. Today, we were able to experience it firsthand. A great number of people spoke English (making us feel shame once more for not being a multi-lingual crew), but even the ones that didn’t seemed to know two phrases: 1) “Where are you from?” and 2) “Welcome to Egypt.” It’s as though the whole nation works for the board of commerce. The welcomes weren’t just frequent, they were genuine.
Our intent today was to shoot scenes that would establish how foreign this place must have been to Coach Bradley when he first took the job. It wasn’t hard to do. Today is Friday and in Egypt, businesses are closed on Friday, so the beaches were PACKED, just as they would be at home on a gorgeous day like this. But everywhere along the beach, there were vignettes that told us just how far we were from home. From the huge fishing poles, to the women lounging along the sand in full burqas, to the wild breakwaters that looked like oversized cement jacks, nothing seemed familiar. But no matter how different things were, the welcome was the same.
We felt it again when Ahmed talked our way into a private beach club. We had passed it on the way to the palace and made a note to stop there on our way to film the noon prayer at a local mosque. Why? On a small peninsula between a harbor and the Mediterranean, there was a bright green artificial turf soccer field overrun by kids.
We had to shoot it. Feeling a bit self-conscious about shooting in a private club, we descended to the field. We were instantly welcomed by men, women and children, all of whom seemed happy to have us there, but continued about their business as though we were invisible.
It was perfect. Chad and Ty shot the agonizingly long calisthenics routine the kids went through, Clay scoured the area for photos and I set up near the fishermen (and women). The location was beautiful, the only regret I had was that we were working and couldn’t plunge into the tantalizingly teal waters with the locals.
Once the stretching routine wrapped up, we all filmed the kids playing in the match. We could’ve stayed there all day, but found ourselves needing to get to the noon prayer. We didn’t want to be late. We were also concerned about filming a private ritual. Ahmed said it would be fine; I wasn’t so sure.
The mosque’s minaret towered high over a town square. When our van pulled to a stop, we could hear the prayer was already in progress. The men prayed outdoors, which I think was the first surprise to all of us. We expected to be entering a building to film; this new twist afforded us the ability to film more discretely and not disrupt the prayer. Careful not to cross over in front of where the men prayed, we worked our way to the back of the crowd and set up. As we got ready, behind us, across the street from the prayer, a small scuffle broke out between supporters of rival political groups. Pushing and shoving ensued, but the rambling fisticuffs were quickly squashed (though Ahmed told us there were rumors of a protest beginning directly after the prayer). The whole time, there was no deviation by the men praying. They solemnly followed the ritual–an admittedly foreign one to us–as though there was nothing else in the world.
Again, our presence aroused curiosity, with a few men stopping to chat and hear about why we were there. Satisfied that we had only good intentions, we were allowed to continue filming. What impressed us was how much the crowd grew, even in the short time we were there. Where we were once at the back, so many men had arrived that we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the group. Not wanting to interfere, we stepped further back until we were almost in traffic (Clay had to warn me that I was perilously close to be clipped by a taxi). The group kept growing. If men arrived without prayer mats, for a small fee, they could purchase wrapping paper emblazoned with Winnie the Pooh to place on the ground. It was truly fascinating.
As we cannot speak Arabic (though our “thank you” and “you’re welcome” have been perfected), we had no idea when the prayer would finish, but the end came quickly. The crowd stood up and begin to disperse. Before we could gather ourselves, the protest across the street began. We quickly formed a single file line and went in the direction we thought opposite the heart of the protest. We guessed wrong. We found ourselves smack in the middle it, trying to push our way out past a pickup truck rigged with speakers as tall as me that blared messages of dissent. A moment later, we were clear of the group and turned around to watch as the truck inched towards the square, flags flying all around it.
It seems that images we’ve seen of Egyptian protests–or perhaps of any protest in an Arab Spring country–have taught us to fear them. There was certainly a sense of chaos as we quickly tried to exit the masses, but I’m glad that we had a chance to pause and watch the protest unfold from a block away. What was instantly evident was that the protest was extremely passionate, but also, rather peaceful. Honestly, we were probably safer there than we would have been if we found ourselves wearing Rangers’ blue in Philly. It was a good reminder of how quickly perspectives can change.
On the way home, Chad and Ty suggested we stop to film an oil refinery on the side of the highway. Tall, green reeds formed a border along the road and I poked around the high grass a bit before having a realization and telling Chad that if I saw a snake, I was out of there. When we got back to the car, I learned that Egypt has cobras, “but not so many.”
We’re back at the hotel now and the football pitch across the way (yeah, I’m calling it a pitch now… and saying football) is beckoning us–not just because we have “empty soccer field” on our shot list, but also because Clay was able to wrangle a ball from the hotel and #17 and I haven’t linked up on the pitch since our career-ending loss at Torrington in ’98. Memories.
After that, it’s off to watch the Pharaohs start working on their World Cup dream. We’ll check in after the game.
The CPP Crew