A Moment in Time.
A Meeting with Film Maker Fatmir Doga
I think that the best way to talk about someone is to tell you a story about them. Something that had an impact on you not because it was fantastic or crazy just simply a memory. This is about my friend Fatmir Doga the film director.
One early afternoon in the late fall of 2011 I met with Fatmir Doga, ostensibly to discuss a couple of film treatments that he was shopping around at the time.
Doga was, and still is, a very independent filmmaker and I worked for a small and sometimes successful entertainment production company in the business development group. We were to meet at a local pub that was all but empty save the bar and kitchen staff who were busy cleaning glasses and dishes in anticipation of a busy afternoon.
I arrived first, sat down at a corner table, but, within a few moments 2 older, probably retired, gentlemen entered the pub and sat at the table next to me. I watched as they set up a chess board, ordered two pints of Guinness and began, what would become, a very short game.
Enter Fatmir Doga, like something out of 30’s European B&W film. As soon as he set foot into the dimly lit pub, there was a change in the atmosphere that was palatable. His long dark hair was wind-blown, and he looked like he just rode in off the high-plains sans the horse. As soon as he spotted me, he smiled broadly and moved quickly to the table, sat down and inquired about my health, family and work. I reciprocated by asking the same questions and within two minutes we had completely caught up on everything that was important to us, but, at that moment it mattered less than what brought us together at that time and location.
The two chess players next to our table continued to play chess and ignored the rather loud discussion that had begun right next to them. They did periodically glare at me. I shrugged it off. Doga asked if I thought that it would be a good idea if we moved and I declined stating that I was “here first”. Doga smiled, watched them play for a moment and then turned his attention back to me. The conversation got louder.
Some background first. Fatmir Doga, like most artistic people, readily admits that he doesn’t have a lot of close friends, but the ones that he does have, he holds close. I count myself amongst them. Doga is an old school, but not an old person, film making artist. He originally came from Albania and immigrated to Canada to make movies. He’s married and has a son who attends school in Toronto. His son is a very important part of his life. They talk nearly every day when Doga is traveling. Doga travels between Toronto and California regularly. He is humble, thoughtful and, generally, a kind person. He knows what he knows and freely asks for help in the areas that he doesn’t understand how to handle. He does, however, understand how to make a good action-packed film with great human-interest stories that people enjoy. His style is a little different to the current North American model where everyone is an expert in one single aspect of film making. Having the skill as a director or cinematographer or editor or whatever else one does makes for a large production team with a somewhat isolationist production module where it often falls heavily upon the editor to make the film saleable while in post-production. Old school artists, like Doga, want and need to know everything about their craft, the way a painter knows his brushes, pallet, paints, canvas and subject before commencing. Doga takes on a film from conceptualizing the story, creating the characters and bringing them to life. Then writing the script from the vision of both the audiences and the production technical keeping budget and skill capabilities in mind. He enjoys the directing, the camera work and editing the entire production in order to make his story successfully unfold, thus changing it from an inanimate single-dimensioned object-string to a living spirit on the screen full of energy and continuous captivating flow.
He mentioned that he was coming to terms with the financing of a film that he called “Being American.” He wanted me to read the script and give him my opinion. I made the fateful (not really for me but for my two chess playing companions) mistake of asking him what the story was all about. Doga immediately got up in front of me and began to play-out the entire story! He knew off by heart from the opening scene of the fire fight between US infantry and a band of Iraqi irregulars on the Iraqi-Turkish frontier to the principal story of a family of four crash landing their private plane in the same area years later where relationships between American and Iraqi combatants were actively fighting with each other. With his noticeable Albanian accent he wove a story where both the antagonists and the protagonists had little or no choice but to face each other in a life and death struggle. He became quite animated as the story unfolded. It was like he was there in Iraq himself. He knew all these people! The America infantry solders, the marauding Iraqi irregulars carrying Russian made AK47’s and the family caught in the middle. He knew their back stories, all their lines and all of their actions. The pub staff all stopped working and came over to the edge of bar and listened in.
The two chess players soon realized that glaring at me wasn’t going to stop the show, so they finally gave up playing and decided to enjoy the show.
Doga maintained the story telling pace until he had unwrapped the entire story and then sat down and said, “What do you think?”
I think that I was more exhausted then him and I responded, “I think it’s great!” He excused himself from the table to got to the washroom. While he was gone, I looked over at the two retiree chess competitors who were now standing with the pub staff at the end of the bar and smiled. I was about to apologize for the commotion, for interfering in their chess game and distracting them for their work, but before I could, one of the pub staff asked, “Did that really happen?”
I smiled and replied, “My friend is a film maker. I suppose, in a way, it did happen.”
The pub staff went back to work and the retirees returned to their game.
When Doga returned, he immediately noticed the small group at the bar and waved at them. He leaned over and shook hands with the two retirees who acknowledged that it sounded like a good movie. We both had a good laugh, ordered lunch and discussed his next film idea. The next hour and a half were much quieter as we discussed distributors, investor, producer, casting and so on. Ultimately, the chess match ended in a draw.
I recently had the opportunity to see a pre-release and not-quite-finished copy of “Being American”. I knew the whole story! It was as expected, simple yet compelling, fiery, and full of the realistic action as told to me years before in the pub on a bright late autumn afternoon. It was Fatmir Doga’s vision from beginning to end. He made it as promised! He had help, as we all have help from time to time, but, he made “Being American” on budget and on time. The copy that I saw may not yet perfect. I haven’t seen very many films that are at that point, but, it is a complete story and compelling to watch. From an audience point of view, it is a great story that really could have happened.
He is, as I said, an artist. He has a good feel for how to tell a story on screen.
I can’t wait for his next production. Of course, the pub that we met in that many years ago has changed ownership and lost its’ style, so we’ll have to meet somewhere else.