This journey began in March 2013. My mother had just passed away and I was on my way back to the Middle East. Death is a confusing time, it challenges our sense of identity, character and reasoning. As an adopted person, there have always been questions surrounding my own heritage and I know I have always been attracted to things that have an obvious, tangible history.
Given the fact that I had been coming to the Arabian Gulf for 20 years, the development in the region had been staggering – Dubai had really placed itself on the global stage. In 1993 when I first arrived, it was a quiet, dusty port city with lots to discover. 20 years later it had become one of the worlds most visited cities and the quiet dusty corners and been replaced by shopping malls and hotels.
I had already performed with pearl diving musicians in Kuwait and Bahrain and I became curious about the whereabouts of the pearl divers in the UAE. The idea of making a film about this journey was exciting so after 18 months months of research, discussion and decision making, cameraman Ray Haddad and I set out on a journey in the UAE, in search of the last remaining pearl divers. Part of the vision for this film was to explore a musical collaboration with the pearl divers, and to host a concert with them, as the joy of shared music is a dynamic platform for intercultural dialogue.
The media in the UAE were very responsive and excited about our quest, as were the BBC in the UK, who followed us with great interest. We began our search in Ras Al Khaimah. I love RAK as the Emiratis up there are full of life and are not afraid to speak their minds, about anything. We found the fisherman’s cafe and majilis and began talking to the old guys as they played dominos and cards and drank coffee.
It became apparent that the kind of ‘joy’ i was searching for was not present. You could compare it to interviews with World War II veterans. Memories of hardship, death, sadness, and how Sheikh Zayed had saved them with the discovery of the ‘Black Gold’. By the time the sun set in RAK on that first day, Ray and I found ourselves sitting in silence, knowing that the kind of film we set out to make, was not going to happen.
To cut a long story short, Ray and I filmed for 2 weeks in that October of 2014, it was a very intense time, exhausting and challenging for both of us. We parted company at the end of November and sat on the footage for a while. Months in fact. In June 2015, after assembling a rough cut we decided that there was not a viable film to be made and decided to call it a day.
For the next 12 months, I would wake every morning, with Grain of Sand on my mind. I just knew there was a film to be made but didnt know where or how. Then through a conversation with an artist friend, she suggested I go back to Bahrain, where the story had begun for me in 1999. She was absolutely right, I felt stirred again. So in August 2016 I headed to Bahrain in search of a pearl diving group.
Within a few days I found myself sitting with a group of 25 men singing pearl diving songs in Muhurraq. It was a moving experience and I immediately decided to continue the film with this group, so I continued the crowd funding campaign (which had been on pause since 2014) and raised the money to bring Toby Watts, from Far North Film, to Bahrain.
In February 2017, Toby and I spent 2 weeks following the pearl diving musicians from Dar Burshaid & Shabab Al Hidd, and flute player Ahmed Al Ghanem. I had arranged a concert for us at La Fontain in Manama, so the film was partly a build up to this concert.
Without giving too much away, the journey was incredible. A huge contrast to the atmosphere in the UAE, but in retrospect, the footage of the two journies really compliment each other. So we are now in the process of assembling the story and will be sharing the trailer.
After almost 5 years since the journey began, I will soon have a story not only to tell, but to show. There is something important and poignant in all of this and I am excited to be able to finally tell this story.
Jason Carter – June 2017