Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Iran and Etihad

FINALLY...We got the visas through and can now head to Iran. Many thanks to Reza Eslamloo and Javad Shamaghdari for their help with this.

We are now looking at going to Iran after the first of the year. Still waiting on a response with Etihad, but like everything else, this takes time.

I got a very nice email from Eason Jordon, who was the head of CNN news during the Gulf War. He wrote, "Asrar is a hero, and it'd be wonderful if her story were told." We will be having Mr. Jordon as a consultant on the film.

It's a great part for an actress, let's just hope that the women we are interested in think the same thing! With a film like Defiance coming out with Daniel Craig about the Polish and Russian Resistance fighters during WWII, we feel that Etihad will have an audience as well.

That Asrar not only fought with the Resistance for her country, but also saved Americans and Brits who were left behind, really is an amazing story. She gave the ultimate sacrifice, her life for what she believed in. It does give a completely different look at Arab women and the whole Eastern/Western idea.

The more I'm learning about Asrar Al Qabandi, I feel really fortunate to be involved with this film. There are so few stories about women heroes out there.

"Death is more universal than life; everyone dies, but not everyone lives." A. Sachs

Friday, December 5, 2008

4 years

I just realized that it was my 4 year anniversary on being in the UAE!

OK, I'm in LA at the moment, but on Dec 4, 2004, I turned up in Dubai not knowing a soul...and it has been an amazing ride since then!

Big Cat Rescue was sold (article in Gulf News) http://www.gulfnews.com/friday/Environment/10264750.html and I finally got my visa permission just yesterday (4 must be a GOOD number for me!) to go to Iran to film our documentary, We the People of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is about the Presidential Election process in Iran, as their election is coming up.

For our film Etihad, it is currently with a Hollywood actress to see what she thinks about being involved. My partner on this is HH Sha. Al Zain Al Sabah of Kuwait. Etihad is about Asrar Al Qabandi, a US educated Kuwaiti woman, who was the backbone of the Kuwait Resistance during the Gulf War. Asrar was eventually captured, tortured, raped and killed, 2 days before Desert Storm started. It's an amazing story about an Arab woman who ended up giving the ultimate sacrifice for what she believed in.

We are also developing a film called Antar of Liwa, The Black Knight, about the Arab/African hero, Antar. It's with the Media Council in Abu Dhabi at the moment, as we would like to film it in Liwa.

So it's been a good 4 years and we are looking forward to many more.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I think the entire election process was amazing, even though I did not vote. I'm glad Obama won, however, I think he faces a daunting uphill climb.

What I do think is fantastic about Obama winning is that it gives people hope. The idea that a man with an ethnic background can run and be elected as the President of the United States is in itself, a victory for everyone.

When you think about, US Presidents have always been rather wealthy white guys. If Obama can do it, why not a woman, or an Asian American, or a Mexican American? Why not indeed!

His story is inspiring in itself, apart from the fact he is now going to be the President. Can he make changes? We can only wait and see what happens. But Americans love the underdog, we like to root for the guy who succeeds against impossible odds and this energy maybe what will help him get things accomplished. I hope so.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I was fortunate enough to get a copy of Oliver Stone's W script, as we had some investors in the GCC who wanted to look at investing in films. In the end, most thought it was to controversial.

It really is a good story, and I don't think it's controversial at all. It's out there...but it makes you think, which IMO is what a good film should do.

I believe it is in a trailer for Bill Maher's film, Religulous, where there is a clip of Bush. Apparently he is answering a question on foreign policy (you don't hear the question) His answer is along the lines of "I believe that God wants everyone to be free, so that is the basis of my foreign policy."

Now that is not verbatim, but close to what is on the clip. How ignorant can someone sound? Even if you are deeply religious, which is one's personal right, to express this goes beyond insane. Whose God is he talking about? How pompous that he believes that if "his God" says this...it must be so.

I am not arguing that freedom is a negative thing, but by making such a statement, you are not taking into consideration other people's concept of what God is or isn't.

No wonder he is the worst President the US has had. Anyway, I would recommend seeing W, and I am going to see Religulous. Curious if either will play in the GCC.....

Sammy the Shark

While I am still in Los Angeles, I have been reading the UAE news online.

I really think the current "Save Sammy" campaign is fantastic. The issue itself, keeping an endangered animal captive in violation of CITES, is a slap in the face to the UAE Federal Govt.

Yes it's true that there are certainly other important things to address in the UAE, like the rights of laborers. However, when a high profile establishment like Atlantis is allowed to openly defy an initiative that the Federal Govt. signed on with, the message it sends is not good. The whole idea of protecting endangered animals is so that we can keep them from becoming extinct. One could argue, "If Atlantis can do this, why can't I?" and before you know it people don't pay attention to what CITES initiative is working to accomplish.

However, I think the really fantastic bit of this is, that the public is getting involved with the campaign. Social conscience has long been a part of America's history. Americans have openly railed against our government, big business and other groups they felt were not leaving a positive contribution. This freedom of expression is protected by law. I won't deny that there have been abuses of this, but the concept of freedom of expression is a positive one. Taken to the extreme, California is one of the states that has something to say publicly about just about everything!

Even though the laws are different in the UAE, most Nationals I have met are just as vocal in what they believe and just as concerned about current issues. However, it appears that it is not their custom to voice these opinions openly (but that is changing with some of the talented Emirati bloggers) The people who are wearing the "Save Sammy" buttons are in reality, staging a polite protest and expressing their social conscience, and Gulf News posting their photos is giving this campaign legitimacy.

Hopefully, Atlantis decides to do something sooner than later because of the negative press and releases Sammy, or the Federal Govt. intervenes.

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.- Albert Einstein

Gulf News

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This is an except from the LA Times. Zbigniew Brzezinski served as national security advisor to President Carter and is considered to be a well respected figure in American foreign policy.

Brzezinski: It can be a catalyst. Not for actions directed by the United States but for actions that the local community -- maybe we can call them stakeholders in a global system -- is prepared collectively to embrace. That kind of leadership is needed. But for that kind of leadership to emerge in America, we not only need very special people as leaders -- and they do come up occasionally -- but we need a far more enlightened society than we have.

I think Americans are curiously, paradoxically, simultaneously very well-educated and amazingly ignorant. We are a society that lives within itself. We're not interested in the history of other countries.

Today we have a problem with Iran. How many Americans know anything about Iranian history? Do they know that it is a bifurcated history? There have been two Irans. And those two different periods, pre-Islamic and post-Islamic, dialectically define the tensions and the realities of Iran today. [Americans] know nothing about it.

Quite a few Americans entering college could not locate Great Britain on the map. They couldn't locate Iraq on the map after five years of war. Thirty percent couldn't identify the Pacific Ocean. We don't teach global history; we don't teach global geography. I think most Americans don't have the kind of sophistication that an America that inspires, and thereby leads, will have to have if it is to do what this 21st century really will demand of us.

OK, I consider myself to be one of the well educated/exceptionally curious Americans. I can certainly tell you where Great Britain is, know about Iranian history, Iraq, Islam, countries of the GCC, etc. It never ceases to amaze me that when I am in the US and start to talk about traveling, and living in the UAE, people are mesmerized.

Come on people...READ! We have the Internet, look things up and learn something. Americans always think the Arabs must be ignorant...the fact is the average Emirati/Qatari/Kuwaiti is usually better educated than the average American. As I've not yet been to Iran, I'm going to guess it's the same there, judging by the Iranians I know who are all well travelled and up on current events.

But the thing I have experienced that I feel is amazing is that most people you speak to, especially in the GCC, have nothing but good things to say about Americans. If you talk to Emiratis in their late 30's to mid 50's, most either went to school in the US, or travelled there. The stories they tell reflect a fondness for the experiences they had. Most don't understand our Govt. but then, neither do I!

It's really a shame, Americans don't have the respect we once had internationally. Respect is something that is earned and we certainly need to examine this.

East meets West

This is probably not PC, but here goes.

There are so many people here in the US with the idea of "let's go get money from the Arabs." Especially in the film industry, since AD is getting into film financing.

There is never any thought as to "Who are these people? Maybe I would like to get to know them." I remember reading an article and an unnamed Emirati commented, "What do they think we are ATM machines?" Unfortunately YES.

The other point is that during the Presidential conventions, people kept talking about the "evil oil mongers in the Middle East," and similar quotes.

Correct me, but the last time I checked, with the exception of Iran, everyone else in the GCC the US buys oil from is a US ally...hhmmm, perhaps I missed something?

If the US keeps looking to the GCC for bailouts, then we should make it a priority to include them and not use them as a sound byte. What if every time we talked about the Germans we said "those Nazis." It's just as horrible. The perception put out is that somehow the Arabs (because they have oil) are rotten and responsible for our economic mess. If gas was cheaper, it would be cheaper to travel, ship goods, etc.

News flash...OUR Government is responsible for this mess.

So if we keep wanting the Arabs to bail us out...then we HAVE to start including them and quit with the negative BS. Otherwise, don't take their money.

On the flip side, now is the perfect time for the GCC countries to insist that the US cut the negative BS about them. Remember the Golden Rule...the guy with the gold makes the rules!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Estrogen Challenged.....

OK (still in US) today I got talked into going to a candle party with my Mom. Actually the woman giving it is a friend of my Mom's whom I've met and she is lovely, so I decided to go and say "hello."

I have to admit, I did not get the girly gene. I don't become visibly anxious when shoe stores have sales. The sight of small children does not make me become a blithering idiot.

I was always the one in jeans riding horses. While I will get decked out for the right reason, I spend most days being rather casual, and can't be bothered to wear makeup. However I do shave my legs and date men exclusively.

So going to any kind of girly gathering is a stretch for me....and bridal and baby showers are an absolute "NO WAY." But the interesting thing is, I have been to a few of these type of parties in the UAE, thrown by some of the Sheikhas. Not candle parties, but over there, women have all female parties, with the exception of young male children.

They do the same things and talk about the same things...and everyone leaves with a gift. No difference.

Now if there would only have girly parties for women that like to talk about business and building empires...sign me up!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Perfect Family....

They live at the corner listed below....thanks AW for the photo.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Presidential Conventions

In honor of the fact that there is simply NOTHING on TV for 2 weeks because of the conventions, I thought I would post these verses from a former US President;

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure."

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

"I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends."

These are all quotes from Abraham Lincoln. I think they apply now even more than they did back in his day. You wonder if McCain or Obama would ever be the kind of President someone like Lincoln was. I think with all the special interest groups and lobbyists, it's impossible.


This is one of the things I miss when I am in the UAE. I mean, where else can you go and buy a 5 gallon bucket of mayonnaise?

Not that I would ever NEED that much mayonnaise, but it's comforting to know that if I wanted it...I could buy it. Besides, if you go into Costco hungry, you can wander around and eat all the free samples, so by the time you leave, you don't have to worry about what's for dinner.

In the UAE we have Carrefour, it's a French chain of grocery stores. As you might imagine, their bakery and cheese section is to die for, but the rest of the food...well they're French brands, what can I say?

We also have Spinney's and Abela's, these are British. I don't know, but if I am going to put catsup (or ketchup) on something, I want it to be Heinz, not some kind I've never heard of.

Then there's that silly "British English." My friend asked me to "Get a trolley." Now to me, a trolley is that thing that looks like an electric train and it's on the front of the Rice-A-Roni box. (not seen in UAE markets) As I stood there looking stupid, she said, "The thing to put the groceries in." Oh yes.

And what about trousers vs pants; hoover vs vacuum; bathroom vs loo and lounge vs living room? I must say I am doing well with this, only to come back to LA and have to switch again.

Back to the simple things, a single person like me can buy toilet paper (or loo rolls) at Costo in the 40 roll package and have a supply for a whole year. I miss that....

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Don't We All Know....

Someone who lives on this corner? Too funny, thanks JB.

Video Blog Site, We the People

I have a new site for a project I just started, We the People.

It's a Video Sociological Installation and I will be posting videos we film from Iran, as well clips people submit.

We the People of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is the launch installation, which I will follow up with We the People of the United Arab Emirates.

Thus August 21

Jeff, Sam and I were invited to have dinner at Joel Hynek's house. He is a friend and business associate and one of he best visual effects guys out there. Joel won the Academy Award for VFX for What Dreams May Come. Here is more info.

He and his better half Robin and his daughters Lindsey and Lauren were great hosts and we had some interesting discussions on the artistic aspects of film and VFX. This I REALLY like, as recently all I am doing is dealing with the business side. Lauren is also an aspiring screenwriter and her first script, which I have read, is quite good.

I am still amazed by the "barbecued peaches." Must be Canadian....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Iran Trip

So it seems the question I keep hearing is "Why would you want to go to Iran? Aren't you afraid something will happen to you?"

Well I cannot predict the future, but I don't see it as being dangerous. On several occasions, Iran offered to enter into discussions regrading their nuclear program with the US and EU. Then in Nov of 2006, Ahmedinejad wrote an open letter to both Bush and the American people. This is what was the inspiration for getting Oliver Stone involved with this.

Now I'm not saying that I agree with everything that was in Ahmedinejad's address. However, why not open a conversation? The worst thing that could happen....is nothing. It certainly can't hurt anything. 

If you have not read this address, here is a link.

Ahmedinejad also wrote a letter to President Bush which is similar, here is the BBC link to it.

As to why I am going, I think that once you take politics out of it, most people want the same thing. A job where they can make enough money to have a decent life, to care for and enjoy their family and friends.

On our first trip there, we are planning to film people in the street and ask them their views on Americans and what they think about us. We will post these daily to a website which is being set up for this, so people can see what the response is. It will be interesting to speak to people old enough to have lived through the Revolution of 1979 and young people, who have only known having a President.

The follow up trip later this year, will be to film the actual documentary. 

Monday, August 18, 2008

This is a Test....

While I know those on the East side probably already know the answers, I bet most people on the West side don't. Here goes...

1. Do you have a CitiBank Credit Card? Did you know that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) in the UAE bailed out floundering CitiBank to the tune of $7 billion? Did you know they also just bought the iconic Chrysler Building in New York? ADIA is currently the world's largest sovereign wealth fund. the second largest one is in China.

2. Did you know that the largest foreign owner of real estate in the US is the Middle East? Various companies and Govt. wealth funds across the Middle East own more real estate in our country, than any other foreign country.

3. Did you know that the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi are all allies of the US and that we have either a land or sea military presence (or both) in most of these countries?

4. Did you know that HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, made a donation of $100 million to the Hurricane Katrina disaster?

If you knew the answers to 2 or more questions, apparently you read the news. If you didn't know any of the answers...perhaps you should start reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday 08/15

I now have a crew together to film in Iran and am waiting on news regarding my visa. We are "planning" to go on a scouting trip in Sept. then back to film in Nov. It all depends on what the Iranians say.

It's amazing how many people in the US still think that a place like Abu Dhabi (AD)/Dubai must be full of terrorists.

I spoke to someone yesterday and when he asked where I lived and I said "The UAE, you know Dubai, AD," his answer was "Why, isn't there a lot of unrest there?"

There is zero unrest in AD, sometimes things happen in Dubai. I have friends in the police/CID there and yes, sometimes there are problems and we hear about them, but very few, especially in comparison to LA. Probably the only unrest would be a guy with a handful of hundreds down in Bur Dubai...that would certainly stir up the working girls...

Coming from Los Angeles, it's a WHOLE lot safer in AD. I don't go to an ATM machine in LA after dark, in AD you go whenever you want, no one bothers you. My girlfriend and go walking down by the water in the evening and again, people don't bother you at all and there are lots of families there. In fact, when I get back to LA, I have to keep remembering that I have to pay attention to other people and be alert. This is not the case in the UAE.

Eventually...hopefully...Americans will start to realize that every Arab is NOT a terrorist, that is a stereotype that keeps being put out there. It has been an educational compare/contrast for me living in both places.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Hat For The Camel

This is a short film I got a chance to see, which is really good. Tasha Brodie and her son, Thomas Sangster are involved with this through their film company, Brodie Films. Brodie Films is an independent film company that was started in 2006.

I met Tasha, Thomas and his sister Ava when they came to AD last year for a charity event screening of the film, The Last Legion, for The Manzil Center. Thomas has done quite a few movies, but is best known for Love Actually and Nannie Mcphee. He is set to star in a three picture deal for the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson franchise, Tin Tin. Thomas plays the main character, Tin Tin.

This first film from their company is very well done and it's a period piece which takes place during the Second World War. Tasha acts in the film and she also adapted it from a radio play written by her grandfather, Anthony Bertram. Thomas is the Executive Producer. Tasha has written several other scripts and did the sound track for the film. She is a quite a talented musician as well and actually started her career as a ballerina with the London City Ballet.

Their first feature film, Goddess, will be shot next summer. We are working to get A Hat For The Camel into the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, MEIFF, this fall.

Photo courtesy of Brodie Films

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Big Cat Rescue

We ended up filming the trailer for Big Cat Rescue in June. It is being done for International TV, my pitch being it's like the Osbourne's with tigers and lons. Ronel and her kids Chrissie and Steve, plus the feline family, are the stars.

Then Jeffrey Fleishman from the Los Angeles Times came to AD to do an article about me being an American woman in the entertainment business in the Middle East.

While he was here, I took him to AD Wildlife Center to see the place. Jeffrey ended up doing this piece for the LA Times on Ronel. Enjoy!

Back in LA Land/Iran Film

Ok, for the weekend, I am in AZ visiting my parents. And I was hoping to get away from the heat, it's actually hotter here than AD, but no humidity.

It has been a little hectic trying to put together a crew to take to film in Iran. I think most think I have lost my senses....

This will be a companion piece to the Oliver Stone/Mahmoud Ahmedinejad project. After having this project initially rejected (comments further down)...I ended up sending a letter to the President's office, and was informed that he had changed his mind, so it's now approved. It would be great if Mr. Stone decides to go ahead with this, but he's the person who decides. Even if it does go forward, it probably would not be until next year.

I had tried to find some investors for his film W but in the end, it was too controversial for the investors I know in the GCC. I did get a copy of the script, it's a great story, even if you are not a Bush fan.

The new Iran film will be about the Presidential Election process. I think most in the US forget that they also elect a president in Iran. Everyone's going to say "Yeah, but that's different," so we will go and see what it means to vote in Iran. I am currently writing the script, a documentary is quite different, as I have to do a lot of research into the history of Iran and their politics. Interesting stuff.

Without giving away too much, I have selected a known, diverse group to speak with. I have initial approval for this project, however, I ended up changing a few of the people I wanted to meet, so I am waiting to hear back on permission for the changes. For this project, we will not be interviewing President Ahmedinejad, as I don't think anyone could do this as well as Mr. Stone.

Javad, who works in the President's office is amazingly helpful getting things done for the project. Now I just have to get a crew together to take there. More on this tomorrow, as it's Sunday here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This is Maya. She was seized from the airport as she was being sold on the black market. She was covered in sores and almost dead.

Maya was taken to ADWC and Ronel and her children nursed her back to health and she is now a beautiful full grown tigress. These magnificent animals should be in their natural habitat, however, with the black market sales of big cats both live and for body parts, their fate in the wild is not certain.

We recently filmed a promotional trailer for a TV show we are filming for US television, Big Cat Rescue. The funds were generously donated for the filming from the Al Bustan Wildlife Center and HH Sh. Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, The President of the UAE's, internal department that deals with the environment.

I would encourage everyone who is concerned about the fate of these animals to visit the ADWC to learn more about them. If you did not see the Gulf News video yet, here it is, or you can visit their website.

Photos by Ronel Smuts and Janet Hunt

Abu Dhabi Wildlife Center

If you have not seen the Gulf News video, please take a moment to watch it.

Ronel Smuts is an amazing woman! She has dedicated her heart and soul to saving these animals. To be around her is an inspiration.

She is a lovely friend who has taught me a lot about big cats. Ronel and her kids, Chrissie and Steve run the center.

We recently had a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visit ADWC and Ronel and the ADWC will be featured in the LA Times, one of the top 3 US newspapers. We are looking to get the word out about the ADWC Internationally, and the efforts the UAE is making to conserve wildlife.

Above is a photo of Chrissie and Shaggy having his milk with vitamins. He is one of three white lions at the ADWC.

Photo by Janet Hunt