Final Thoughts


There wasn’t much time for sound at all. We spent half a day in a dark room. I explained sound design in the best way possible, but it was clear by the time they started editing that what I had said didn’t stick. At least some of them enjoyed when I showed them Punch Drunk Love.

We edited and mixed 12 movies in about a day and a half. Editing and mixing sound in AVID is one of the most clunky, frustrating and inefficient experiences I’ve had. But, it’s what was available, so we made it work.

The night before the final screening, we worked from 10am until 5am. I took a break for an hour to go to a nearby street fair and buy gifts. I was all business. When one vendor started chatting me up, I felt my precious time slipping away. I bargained with him to let me just buy the stuff and move on.

The super long editing day was a Friday, the day of rest. This meant there was no lunch delivered. The students got together and had an animated debate about where to go to eat. At least this is what I gleaned since they spoke in Arabic, with the occasional “Popeye’s” and “Macdonald’s” thrown in. We ended up at Burger King.

I love the way Arabic sounds. It seems like such an expressive language. It makes me feel like I can understand it when I don’t.

The day of the screening we started work at 10am, putting the final touches on the movies. I started to let up on my dictatorial position regarding music during dialog. My will was weakening. Another day and I would have been encouraging them to use wall-to-wall score.

In preparation for my return to LA, I shaved off my beard. This was a difficult process, since I have no clippers in Amman. I patiently used scissors to trim my beard back to a shaveable length. It felt weird to have a smooth face.
The significance of having a beard in Jordan became obvious.
As previously reported, I have been asked for directions countless times. Whenever I went to a store or restaurant, the employees spoke to me in Arabic without hesitation.
When I got into a cab to go to the screening, the driver took one look at me in the rearview mirror, and said cheerfully, “America?”

The screening was a beautiful thing. The students were excited and nervous. We set up the projector outside in the patio. Friends, actors and crews showed up and filled the chairs. Some people sat on the steps and roof. After each movie, the filmmaker came up to the front to say something brief and take questions. It was all quite charming except for the one guy who kept asking things that seemed suspiciously formulated to make him sound knowledgeable. But even he was incapable of souring such a satisfying event. There was an undeniable feeling of accomplishment throughout the evening.

After the screening there was food and drink. Since Chris and I were leaving early the next morning, we stayed late, soaking up as much Jordan as possible.

One of the most touching things about this whole experience has been working closely with the students. They were generous, honest, hard-working, and as hungry for knowledge about filmmaking than any group of people I’ve met at USC. They came in with minimal knowledge about the process of filmmaking, and came out with a group of decent movies. And, more importantly, you could tell that some of them caught the bug. Those students won’t stop trying to make movies and it’s unbelievable rewarding to have been part of that process.

Motaz and Samer stayed up all night with us in order to drive us to the airport at 5am. Every night, when we stayed late, someone waited with us to drive us home. Every single student I talked to the night of the screening kept telling us we had to stay longer. These were real requests. When they asked me to spend a few more days in Jordan, they looked at me expecting me to say yes. I knew that if we had agreed, they would have fought over having us stay at their respective houses.

I missed the opportunity to go to the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum, but consoled myself by saying that I would have to return to see those places. In fact, I would rather return to Amman, miss those sights and spend time with my Jordanian friends.

I’m no Middle East expert. Three weeks is nothing. But I am grateful for the opportunity because just setting foot in Jordan has afforded me at the very least a glance at a completely different perspective on the world. This has been richly enhanced by my interactions with the students, who were always open about anything I asked them.

I’m no Middle East expert, but I’m not sure how one could have a strong opinion about the chaos here or an unflagging certainty about the solution to it without at least spending some time here and talking to the people who live here. But this is not a political blog. All I can say is that when the customs officer at LAX asked me skeptically, “Did they treat you well over there?” I got a lump in my throat. I’m not sure what he was implying.
“They treated me extraordinarily well,” I answered.
I don’t think he understood the weight of that statement.
As I waited for my bags, I considered what the reverse experience might have been for one of the students (several of whom are interested in coming to USC to study film). Would Sharif or Motaz or Samer or Nidal or Reham or Reem or Fady or Firas or any of those guys have returned to Jordan after three weeks in the States saying, “They treated me extraordinarily well?”
I wish they could come here, so I could show them some good things about our country. For myself, more than for them, because they seem much more able to distinguish the character of individuals from the actions of their country. But of course, when I told them they should come for a visit, they all smiled at my naiveté. “It’s hard to for us to go there,” they said. What they meant was that the U.S. doesn’t give these people visas. “Well,” I said, “I guess I’ll have to come back.”
I’m serious.


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