Two year old labour of love!
Robot Jockey was commissioned the day Miriam’s son was born. She had to begin pre production work as soon as she was out of the hospital and leave for the first shoot in Qatar when he was barely a few months old. The film has been made over 2 years with over 60 hours of footage.
Four cameras in the camel race
It was truly challenging, shooting the camel races.
As many as 30-60 camels take part in a race and they lurch forward seeming to almost collide with each other right at the very start. The spectators besides catching the start and end of the race get the chunk of action of the marathon endurance course from television screens fitted in the audience stand. Alongside the race tracks the true mayhem of camel racing explodes. Hundreds of camel racing enthusiasts race in SUVS alongside the camel tracks careening along and yelling at their camels even as they juggle the remotes for the robot jockeys.
We knew we needed a complex multi camera set up to get a blow by blow account of the races. Brad Dillon a specialized National Geographic sports photographer flew in from Singapore just to film the final races. He placed one camera right on the tracks to capture the start line and the photo finish! Another camera was in the SUV to catch Abdallah point of view as he controlled the robot. A third camera caught audience reactions. A fourth lipstick camera Brad wanted to mount onto the robot so we got the racing camels perspective. We needed special permissions for this as no one wanted to take any risk with their highly trained racing camels. Every additional weight including a miniscule lipstick camera they believed would slow down their chances… of winning the grand prizes- fancy sports cars, gold swords and purses worth millions! Finally the Head of the camel racing federation agreed to mount the camera on his camel. The lipstickcamera was taped onto the robot and mounted on the camel in a mad dash before the race began. We whooped as the camel lurched forward onto the tracks.
But at the finish line, we unraveled the lipstick and tried to play back. We got nothing… The high vibration on the camels back had ruined the camera!
The changing complexion of camel racing !
Al Shahaniya is where Qatar’s biggest camel tracks are situated surrounded by camel farms. Most of the department stores cater to camels from - date cakes to colourful muzzles and beads! The newest entrant who is arousing a lot of curiosity is the robot jockey who is on hire. He will be the substitute to child jockeys and is being rented out and tested before the biggest camel races begin…
The only person to get as much attention as the robot jockey was Miriam! The local newspaper that covers the camel races had her with the crew splashed across it’s front pages. The crew basked in the attention thinking it was because it was a National Geographic crew visiting until a Bedouin sidled up and confessed that it was because Miriam was probably the only woman around Al Shahaniya. The Bedouin leave their families and children in the cities and pitch tents in the desert a few months before the races so they can sell their camels and train them for the races. This is macho sport, not one for a woman except for the few foreign tourists who may show on the race day.
In Abu Dhabi, a local chieftan invited the crew over for a sumptious meal – an entire lamb was roasted and placed in the center of the saffron rice. A few murmurs passed around the circle of men as an unwritten code of conduct was broken and Miriam squatted on the floor along with them. Once the initial embarrassment was done with, Bedouin hospitality was at it’s best, as all hands dug into the common plate of rice. An over enthusiastic youngster, picked up the head of the lamb and pulled out the steaming insides and handed it over to Miriam explaining he was sharing the tastiest tid bit with the only woman amidst the Bedouins.