Al Jazeera Documentary Festival

A-Jazeera is a great TV network. It has issues with some of the Middle East but overall its breath of coverage puts the BBC in the shade last week they hosted their 6th documentary festival and caught a variety of films. Some short, some long. Some heartfelt and moving. Others lighter or downright embarrassing. I think I caught nine in total and took 5 Qataris from work on Sunday to see concerning globalisation and the role of cultural awareness within business.

Six documentaries stood out ranging from North Korea defectors, the spread of Mexican lives, economic migrants in South Korea, Somali pirates and trying to save the bears of Borneo. I’ll give a quick rundown.

1. The Mexican documentary followed three lives; a lucha libre (wrestler), an aspiring dancer and an orange juice maker. All were seeking to better their lives. While all were doing what they enjoyed, a comment from the orange juice maker struck home. When on his Sunday market stall, squeezing the juice from the oranges and selling the fresh juice to customers, he was asked why he did this job. His reply was; ‘the most important thing was the conversations with new people everyday. That’s what builds to spiritually.

2. The Borneo documentary followed the dreams of a Chinese man to save the smallest bear in the world, the Malayan Sun Bear. Like small pandas they were very cute to watch roll around and the orangutans hanging around outside playing made it more amusing. The real star was the Chinese guy whose passion outweighed all the obstacles put in front of him.

3. The Korean Dream documented the crackdown on economic migrants in South Korea this century. After a government change in policy towards the usually SE Asians working there in 2003, there were 11 suicides among the workers. They do jobs Koreans don’t want to do, known as 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, demeaning). Suicide is the Asian method to deal with the shame of the workers and bring shame on the state. This method has effects but it would be far more effective to follow the tactics of Central American migrant workers in SW America and strike to bring home their economic importance.

After 18 years working in Korea, a Nepalese worker who spoke excellent Korean (and frankly looked Korean) was deported for starting a band to highlight the issues of migrant workers. (Its noticeably the hookers aren’t deported!). The state system lacked the far-sighted, political leadership and cultural awareness to adapt. Korea of course has an political and historical base devoid of an understanding of true multiculturalism despite its vast progress. Foreigners are forever outsiders.

4. Pirates of Somalia was filmed undercover in the fishing ports of Somalia, talking to the locals, some pirate financiers, local politicians and NGOs. The overall impression is of locals resisting the pirates, pushing them out of towns while the Western NGOs continue pushing a myopic agenda framed in the backrooms of Europe and North America. Piracy means a loss of developmental aid, further exacerbating the problems of the rest. The lack of infrastructure and real direction surrenders a country still deemed a ‘failed state’ in modern parlance, thereby ignorable and the media agenda to the pirates.

The grinding poverty is alleviated by the piracy, former fishermen whose catches have been swallowed up by Western and Eastern fleets. The same exploitation of chaos occurred in Libyan waters as Gaddifi was overthrown. Spanish fishermen in particular were found trawling as the revolution took place.

The few options left open to Somalis encouraged piracy, migration, alcoholism and drugs and a general Wild West culture. A pirate mission cost about $12,000 and was financed by local venture capitalists. Internal Displaced People (IDPs) amounted to more than 1.5m. The men were often lost to this environment leaving the women to bring up the kids within a social vacuum.

5. The two North Korean documentaries took on different paths and conclusions. One concerned a Korean, now living in Canada trying to find his brother living in North Korea after the letters dried up. What was interesting for me was the typical Canadianising of the Koreans. While the seeker spoke Korean fluently, his son who filmed the trip struggled with the language and they needed a translator for him. By the time of the trip, the North Korean brother had died but he got to meet his nephews and nieces and pray to his brother’s ashes. It was moving and sad.

6. The last documentary I’ll comment on involved the smuggling of North Koreans out of the Chinese border towns next to North Korea. Most crossed China to Thailand through Laos and then applied for asylum to South Korea. But the hazardous journey involved fast, deliberate movements, safe houses, trekking through the Laotian forest to the Thai border. While the North Korean women generally kept their chin’s up, the filmmaker rightly had suspicions about the various smugglers, often South Korean involved. Motivations were vague and revolved around money, sometimes leading to threats and one woman being sold off as a wife.

The ending in this undercover film was happy with the women reaching South Korea but one does wonder whether there are the same smiles when the cameras are not there. I also wonder if the film highlighted not just the journey but far too much detail of the people, places and routes involved.

I watched other films on the Greeks in the Euro hosted by Michael Portillo, an Indonesian man’s return to his family after his release from prison, globalisation, a BBC documentary on London’s complicity with the Mubarak regime and a pretentious group of Lebanonese artist musing over their country,

I’ll weigh in – The Champions League this week

The FIFA international rankings are a ludicrous measure of national teams. Brazil sit at something like #19 while England are up to #7. We were #4! That draw against the 600,000 people of  Montenegro must really have opened some eyes. Brazil of course, have barely played a competitive game in the run up to the World Cup. But they got one thing right. Spain and Germany are #1 and #2. After watching the Champions League this week, this too could be changing.

Many people will rabbit on about Bayern Munich beating Barcelona on Tuesday. It was indeed impressive but I regard Dortmund’s win over Real Madrid last night as more impressive. The reasons are obvious if you really follow football, something very absent here.

Bayern Munich won because they worked out how to beat Barcelona and did so with ease. These were the same tactics Real use but Bayern have more pinpoint firepower. They exploited their physical advantages, aligned with great technical skill and Barcelona’s obvious weaknesses, weaknesses they have failed to address over the last two years.


Barcelona play a possession game, relying on movement and moving the opposite until the full backs (especially Alves) can overlap and get behind teams. Their midfield, which is their whole attack these days, swarm into spaces overrunning teams. It all helps when you have Messi in the team. Bayern were a little fortunate Messi was just coming back from injury and didn’t quite look up to scratch. But they were in trouble before the game started.

Attack, quick defensive pressure and great organisation are Barcelona’s keys but all season their real weakness has been their defence. Pique looked like a man alone back there on Tuesday. Busquets’ general job is to break up the play (and fall over holding his face) but he plays in the middle. Bayern used their height to isolate Pique and attacked down the wings. Alba and Alves, both very good going forward weren’t up to the numbers or the task. Schweinsteiger (aka pig raiser – great name) and Martinez held the line and won every second ball. The sight of Iniesta on his own goal line for the 4th goal tells its own story. They were overrun. It should be added the third should have been scratched out for obstruction.

I’ll never understand why Villa doesn’t start every game. Not only is he is a great finisher but he leads the line and would give the Bayern centre backs something to think about. But the most glaring hole for Barca is at centre back. Pique must have left that field feeling very frustrated. Without him, the score would have been a horror show. Barcelona need to fill that gap quickly and get a man to lead the line if they don’t trust Villa. When in Bratislava in 2009, I spoke to the hostel owner about his team Barca. I asked why they were selling Eto’o. He didn’t know either. Having Ibrahamovic would have helped last night. But the talk of Barcelona passing the torch is premature. A centre back, a striker and a fit Messi and they will be back.


Displaying the Polish ‘3’ from Inglorious Basterds!

Dortmund bought Lewandowski from Lech Poznan for 4m beating off (yes they beat him off) the likes of Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn. They’ve built an incredibly hard-working and fluid team. Gotze is about to leave for Bayern but I barely noticed him. I liked Reus, Gundogan, and the centre backs. Apart from their penchant for diving, they’re a team founded and molded on precise attacking play and defensive stubbornness. Real Madrid were blown away but its hard to feel any sympathy for such a club. The defensive tactics of Pepe and Ramos are ugly and guys like Ozil and Benzema are flat track bullies. While Bayern consistently break the German transfer records, Dortmund, the best supported team in Europe with an average attendance of over 80,000, develop their own and pick bargains most notably from Eastern Europe. They are a truly impressive institution. I’ll be rooting for them in the final.

New films

220px-Poster_of_the_movie_The_Life_and_Death_of_Peter_SellersThe Life and Death of Peter Sellers

This is brilliant. Peter Sellers was of course brilliant and the film pays homage to the fullness of his deluded personality. His inability to control his demonic mind is brilliantly rendered not just by Geoffrey Rush in the lead role and the looks of bewilderment from the others in his life but by the decision to have Rush briefly play all the other characters in cut-aways at different times as Sellers put his preferred reading other’s opinion of his action.

Killer Joe 1


Killer Joe

Friedkin’s take on Tracy Letts’ play is phenomenal to watch. Matthew McConaughey is mesmerizing in the central role as a copper who also contract kills. I never thought I’d equate ‘the dude’ with impressive acting ability but he really is something here. The closing half an hour is unforgettable for its brutal, stark, twisted nature. Even the closing line is hilarious.

Side Effects

Jude Law is a psychiatrist who gets framed by two women in order to make money off a pharmaceutical stock price. Its a Soderbergh film so its slick, mildly convoluted and done properly. Its been compared to a Hitchcock film but its difficult to have the same empathy for Jude Law as it would be Cary Grant. Unless debonair and cock now have the same meaning.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterOz the Great and Powerful

Ahh this is fun, kinda lightweight but quirky, beautifully coloured. Its big on rhyme, short on reason and James Franco’s character is whiny throughout but the ideas and imagination shine making it enjoyable if sadly a little too forgettable for such an opportunity.

Gangster Squad

I usually like these gangster films. I’ve watched a lot of Cagney and Bogart and then the more recent LA Confidential but this film is crap.



A ‘ohhhh, ghostly figure –> screeching sound, please jump’ horror. Its all very predictable and the ending is bloody bizarre/stupid.

Hansel and Gretel

As soon as you see this is produced by Mtv, you know what to expect. Then you notice its only 80 minutes long. And yet after 20 minutes that’s way too long. This film is bollocks.

Here Comes the Boom

I would normally mentioned or watch this film but I was curious to see which MMA guys were in it. I used to write on the sport. While the film runs along predictable and limited lines, it is entertaining in its heart-warming enthusiasm for the sport and the story. I liked it. It passed the time well while I was trying to avoid/do some work.

Serene in Chaos


(Baktupur in Kathmandu)

I’d love to write quickly and succinctly about Nepal but I’m too tired right now. I’m sat at Dubai airport waiting for my connection. Tonight I have to attend the graduation ceremony in Doha for some of my teachers, a group I’ve become fond of for their earnest work, humour and the snacks they bring in to fatten me up for my mother!

My inertia is not simply linked to it being 6am but the confusion of colours, smells and sights clouding my mind, all jostling for position. Nepal is a helluva place. Chaotic and serene. Dirty and wondrously clear. Kathmandu is a shambles and ugly and yet it’s also charming in its own way. Life bursts from the cracks, potholes, alongside the narrow streets and on the non-existent pavements.

The city smells. Pollution loiters with intent. There is no good road in Kathmandu but as this video show, it really doesn’t make you want to leave. Unlike in Doha or Dubai (to a lesser degree), life is lived on the streets. People walk, talk, argue and laugh on the pavements, in the parks and at cafe tables. My teachers have expressed similar reservations of Doha. They mostly hail from Egypt and their endeavour and focus on this project made me proud to know them. In often poor educational systems and with Qatari students not renown for their dedication to hard work, their enthusiasm for their profession is admirable.


(flying out of Dubai)


So as I am clearly wavering between one blog and another but both intrinsically linked to learning, and as the sun rises, I’ll spend my last lucid words on the people surrounding me right now. Dubai airport is an accurate picture of this part of the Middle East. We have Pashtuns and Hazaras sitting waiting for a connection but never together. Immaculately dressed Gulf Arabs pulling suitcases. Professional women in suits drinking coffees and staring at their phones. Men from east and west staring at their laptops. Foreigners tourists in their best casuals waiting for their connection, western engineers in all-weather pants and tens of sub-continent men sitting as closely together as they’ll work and live in the next year in the construction sites of the Middle East. The exact make-up depends on which flights are still awaited but the salad bowl never ends.


(bookshop in Kathmandu)

I have two weeks of planning two projects which will take up the next 3 months before the summer arrives and I’ll return to Europe for some festivals. In the meantime its exercise, some study and some books to be read. Let’s see how far I can get.