When I first started filming in Finsbury Park, I had no serious intention of approaching TV companies with my story. I was just having fun. I suspected the media to be totally controlled. As I found out for myself that it didn't seem to be, the idea of approaching production companies became more serious. The most encouragement I got from the scene was from a newspaper journalist, who I sometimes caged ciggies off of, and who gave me a contact for documentary making. I asked him why he never asked Hamza questions one time, to be told that he was
“ Out of favour with the Muslim brothers. “
He was such a nice guy I thought about asking them to reconsider. I finally got round to asking him who he wrote for.
“ The Sun and The Express “ he told me.
With that statement the whole ludicrous nature of what I had become involved with seemed to spin full circle. One of the original reasons I had come down was because of The Suns coverage of this mosque, and the journalist I had received the most encouragement from wrote for them. Even though I had been at times flippant, I believed I had the other side of what the right wing press, and the London TV News had deemed to be one of the most important stories in the UK.
I joined a filmmakers website called shootingpeople and began answering production company calls for new documentary makers. My film about the kids protest had been well received by those who were in it, but totally mulched by a couple of serious film maker friends, some of whom actually seemed to be telling me off for making such a low quality film. Although I suspected this was out of frustration with their own lack of success I still became loath to show what I had to strangers.
I met was a guy who actually helped run the shooting people web site. He was great, we shared an interest in meditation and he lent me a book by a Canadian guy who worked on monster movies called Hardcore Zen. He wished me all the best. I think he would have loved to produce something involving a few peoples footage, and had his eyes on making the British Bowling for Columbine.
A couple of months later I answered a call from a Swedish production company working in the U.K. They thought the stuff I had amusing, but I rambled nonsensical stuff about how I wanted to make it really off the wall, and how I wanted to be painted red head to toe if I was going to present it. I watched some of the stuff they had made. Although it was socially conscious, it was a bit A B C in presentation, and they seemed a bit straight for what I was after, with no idea of Hamza's status in British society. They all looked down as I shook their hands when I left and I didn't hear from them again.
A company called Idealworld had put a call out. I phoned them, but stuttered so much I thought I had completely fucked my chances. After phoning back a couple of times to find them in meetings, I gave up, feeling sorry for myself. I wondered why I had dedicated so much time to all this.
I thought of what I would like to have in my documentary if money was no object. I wanted to include an interview with David Icke, and possibly a phone conversation with the guy who runs infowars where the allegation of George Bush worshiping an Owl God was actually made. I wanted to blue screen an image of George Bush on his lawn in front of his helicopter with me running into frame and falling over, hounding him with questions about his alleged owl god worship and child sacrifice.
In my Internet research I had come up with the name Yvonne Ridley. She was a journalist who had been captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban. She had been set free, without harm, speaking of having been well treated by her captors. She had later actually converted to Islam. I read in some of her writing that she had met Abu Hamza. They had both been guests at a student debating society. I thought what she would have to say might bridge the gap of understanding between Islam and the west.
I went to a small demo marking one year since the invasion of Iraq. I saw George Galloway but although I had my camera I still didn't ask him about his indefatigable comments. As I went round filming I bumped into a friend I had made who makes a living animating in 3D. He was standing next to Naz, a rapper from the band Fundamental who looks like a younger version of Bin Laden. He had grown up a Muslim in the north of England, had lapsed into western society and was now reclaiming his Muslim faith. I had earlier put him in my film about the kids and he was really complimentary about it. We were joined by an older woman who he introduced as Yvonne. She had a sharp sense of humour and the two of them obviously knew each other well and had a banter going.
" You know who this is? " said Naz.
" Yvonne Ridley! She was taken prisoner by the Taliban!"
" You don't know how long I have been wanting to talk to you. " I told her about my filming in Finsbury Park and switched my camera on hoping she would have something to say.
I had previously spoken to Naz about my frustrations getting Muslims to talk on camera about Fundamental Islam or Abu Hamza. I instantly had the same trouble with Yvonne, as she didn't like to be in front of a camera either.
I filmed Naz saying something like "The Taliban had to let her go because she was too much of an extremist for them."
She said that according to her religion, it was wrong to criticize fellow Muslims. I told her of my dislike for the seemingly power crazed lunatics who ran the stop the war movement and how I had no problem criticizing them. It was decided that we would go for a coffee, but I lost them all trying to film the stage through the spray of Trafalgar Squares fountains. I later heard from my friend that she had said of me
"I don't want to talk to that stone worshiper.“
Fair enough I suppose. I thought she would have something more useful to say than that though. It was interesting that only 3 of the Muslims I had met in Finsbury Park judged me by the way I looked, and yet a recent convert like Yvonne would be on my case so soon.
After about a month I got another call from Idealworld. The researcher who had originally contacted me left a message saying that a new documentary producer was on the scene, and they were eager to see what I had. The night before I was really nervous. A years work on the line, to be judged by the people who made Location, Location, Location seemed to be even more ludicrous than Finsbury Park. The meeting was good. They had got back to me because they had been reading the right wing press and realised how big a story I was on to. After a year standing in the cold with Islamists it was great to be sitting in front of a producer who was in a position to make this into a documentary who really wanted to do it.
We spoke of the politics surrounding the situation. With the predicted expansion of Muslim communities in Europe I wondered whether someone with Hamza’s views might one day be standing for mayor of Dusseldorf or something. They liked my approach, and wanted to see the human side of Mr Abdullah. I was relieved that they preferred to make a film about him rather than Hamza. They were totally up for it, but had to get a commission from Channel 4, and I have to get the agreement of Mr. Abdullah.
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