The Emirates in 1976 – arriving in Abu Dhabi
This article follows on from the previous article: The Emirates in 1976 – Doing the deal.
When Yasar Durra, our Middle East Representative at UPITN, told me what was required, in the Emirates, I started some planning. I estimated that it would need six weeks shooting. I was not prepared to go to U.A.E. for six weeks, partly because I would have been most unpopular at home and also I had too much to do with other productions.
I hired Tony Mander, soundman Sid Squires and camera assistant Mike Matthews to go with me and I sent in Osman Mahmoud Osman and his soundman Siqseq from Cairo.
I intended to work on the two films: Villages, the Re-afforestation “Trees in the Desert” and then bring in another Director, David Rea, to do the third film on the U.A.E. and pick up anything I had missed. He would be employed for four weeks, one week to work with me and three weeks on his own with the same crews. On the 11th October, we flew off to Abu Dhabi, my first visit to the Gulf.
I thought that the word re-afforestation was a bit rich since there had been no trees in the region for tens of thousands of years.
We flew out from Heathrow. It was a five hour flight and we arrived at Abu Dhabi in the late evening. As we walked through the aircraft exit doors, it was if someone had thrown a hot wet blanket around us. Humidity was extremely high and the temperature in the late evening was in the high twenties.
We had to find and check all the equipment and put it in a station wagon. This had been organised by Peter Hellyer, our researcher and scriptwriter, who had gone on ahead to prepare the ground and to get things moving, so that we could start shooting as soon as possible. The Customs Officers waived us through.
We set off for our hotel. The Khalidiya Palace which was on, what was then, a northern tip of Abu Dhabi Island. We drove through the streets of the city, it was all quite modern and yet it looked like the biggest building site in the world. On the way, we started a conversation on how one could tell, from the outside, whether a hotel was any good. I thought for a moment and, when it became my turn to offer a contribution to the conversation, I said “Always look out to see if the neon signs are all working”. “If they can’t fix those, they can’t fix anything”.
We turned into the approach to the hotel to be confront with a large neon sign showing “-he K-alidiy– -alace”
I was proved right. We checked in and went upstairs. As we were entering our rooms, which were all in a row, we could see, further down the corridor, several young Arab girls in their late teens. They were looking up towards us and striking what might be described as a provocative pose. We took no notice and went in to our respective rooms. All had been quite luxurious with a large bedroom, a bathroom and terrace with sliding doors. Now the rooms were in need of some attention. The whole hotel was, of course, air-conditioned. After ablutions, we were off to the restaurant before it closed. As we were to find out, the food in the Emirates was excellent. A wide range of food cooked to perfection. The only thing missing from the menu was Pork. Well of course, however, strangely, we could have bacon for breakfast. Weird.
The next morning, I met up with Peter Hellyer to see what he had arranged. He said that we had a meeting that evening at 7 pm. A typical day in the life of an office in this part of the world would be a 9am start, lunch at 1pm – siesta at home – 5pm restart work, finish at 8pm.
During the afternoon, I drove around with the crew in a taxi, having a look at the island of Abu Dhabi. Only ten years earlier, this town had no airport and no docking port. All goods delivered by ship were lightered to shore and the goods unloaded like beach packs. I had seen this in a short documentary I had edited in 1966 which had been shot by Felix Yiaxis, our staff cameraman based on Cyprus. Then, there were few substantial buildings. Predictably, there was already a Barclays Bank DCO.
Anyone wishing to fly somewhere would have been obliged to drive to Dubai to catch a flight. Now, a whole city had developed. There was the airport, which we had come in by, which was a modern airport which would hold its own with any in Europe. At the Port, there was a substantial docking area with over a mile of quays and warehouses.
In the centre of town, there was a shopping area and restaurants. There was an array of hotels with well-known names like Hilton and Sheraton. Almost every block had a high rise building going up. On the Corniche, by a promenade, there was a small clock tower which was accurate twice a day.
There was a story attached to the Khalidiya Palace Hotel. It was located in the extreme western tip of the island of Abu Dhabi with the sea on one side and a wide creek on the back and the other side. It was a prime spot. It is said that the hotel was named after Sheik Khalid who was a younger brother of Sheik Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates. Khalid had sought permission from his brother to build a palace for himself. He was given permission, but Khalid decided to make it a hotel. This infuriated Zayed, who decided to reclaim land all round two sides of the hotel so that it no longer had access to the sea and even reduced access to the creek.
While we were there, this land reclamation was under way. Offshore, a large dredger was at anchor while its machinery was hauling up sand and small boulders from the sea bottom. This material was blown through a flexible pipe about half a mile long to its target area by the beach. At the shore, the material built up at an enormous rate and, before your very eyes, the land was been extended. Each day, they were finishing off an area the size of a tennis court.
This was punishment for Khalid, or so the story goes.
Abu Dhabi has a souk in which all manner of things are on sale. We went for a stroll around the market just to see what sort of trading was taking place. I was on the lookout for some local music, that is, music that had been recorded by locals.
In the souk, I found a tiny music shop, the smallest shop I had ever seen. It was about four feet wide and about eight feet deep. The walls were full of shelves and on the shelves were thousands of cassettes.
The proprietor barely fitted in his premises which had a stable door. On the bottom door, there was a small counter. On this, the local music shop owner leant while discussing clients requirements.
I said “Do you have any recordings of local music, performed by local musicians ?”.
He said “What do you want all that old rubbish for ? I’ve got loads of Frank Sinatra recordings, much better“.
I said “I’m making a film about the Emirates and I want to use he music in the film”.
He said, “I will see what I can find, can you come back tomorrow ?”.
I said that I would. The next day, I went back to his shop and he handed me two cassettes. The music on them was dire and poorly recorded and I began to wonder if he had had them recorded overnight. I could not use them. I would have to rely on Denmark Street.
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