Sunday, 31 March 2013

Filming Jesus Rise to Power in Tunisia

Hope you have all enjoyed Jesus Rise to Power. Here's another entry from my filming diary for 19th December 2011:

'We landed in Tunis with Tunis Air to applause from the airplane cabin – a good sign! I was hugely curious to see the country post–revolution and we arrived the day after they had unveiled a statue to the man who set himself on fire in protest at government corruption and sparked the Arab revolution. I had a little time to explore the capital Tunis – a colleague who works here often had told me there was a much more relaxed atmosphere here since the revolution, but also a sense of uncertainty as to whether Tunisia was yet on the right path – a real game of wait and see. I spent a little time in the souks of the Medina – the old part of the city, enjoying the narrowing winding streets, brightly painted doors and inventive lines from the store-holders tempting me to buy their goods. Our filming day began early as we headed in the rain to Oudana, ancient Roman Outhina – a fantastic, little-known Roman city site with amphitheatre, baths,  and capitol where we set a number of pieces surrounding Christian martyrdom. We were beset though by constant bursts of rain, forcing us to run and seek shelter on a regular basis in the lower vaults of the arena. From there, via enormous rain storms, mud-covered roads, our van sliding enough over the mud even to make the habituated Tunisian driver grip the wheel tight, a quick lunch at a shack schwarma (kebab) shop on the road site, to Dougga, another Roman city site, fantastically well preserved with theatre and capitol building still standing proud in amongst the ruins of an large civic settlement. It was the most freezing place I have been in a long time – standing tall on top of the highest view in a valley – it meant we faced the full force of the wind and the rain. We were under enormous time pressure before the sun went down to secure a dozen pieces to camera and, amid the continuing rain showers, we managed to do it just as the sun slipped below the horizon. Our hotel for the night was the only hotel in Dougga – with a welcoming open fire that the team spent most of the night huddled around.'

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Jesus:Rise to Power

The upcoming premiere of Jesus:Rise to Power with National Geographic in the US on Holy Thursday and in the UK on Easter Sunday, made me think about the time we spent filming these programmes in November and December 2011. I remembered that I had written a travel diary for each day of filming with some thoughts about our locations and the people we were fortunate enough to meet.

This was my entry for the first day of filming:

"December 2nd 2011: Flew in from Egypt via Amman to Tel Aviv and arrived in Jerusalem late last night. Caught first sight of the stout walls of Jerusalem old town. This morning we headed first to the Wailing Wall – the section of surviving outer precinct wall of the Great Temple destroyed by the Roman in 70 AD. I came to it as an ancient historian expecting to be impressed by the historical importance of the monument, but could not but be overwhelmed by the emotion and sanctity of the place as well. Yet the heavy security presence reminded us of the constant tensions that went with that emotion.
Our next stop was a meeting and discussion with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. It was an extraordinary privilege to have a chance to meet and interview him. He in turn was a wonderful host and gave us free rein to film in his offices, providing superb views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I asked the Patriarch what Jerusalem meant to him. He felt it was a city that was blessed and cursed as a city of many religions, but one that was crucial to people the world over as a place to come to find food for the soul.
Jerusalem is an extraordinary city, full of intoxicating smells and sounds, the hardness of its stone worn smooth by the generations of people who have worked, lived and died there. And yet, it does not feel like the history overwhelms it. There is still so much vibrant life here – this is a city of the present as much as the past.'

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Live with New Zealand

Have just completed a radio interview with Graeme Hill of Radio Live New Zealand for my upcoming National Geographic series Jesus: Rise to Power. Despite the oddity of talking to New Zealand at almost 10pm UK time while they were just starting their day, it gave me a good chance to think again about a lot of the issues the show throws us. One case in point: I had always thought the old phrase ' When in Rome, do as the Romans do' originated with the Classical Romans. But it turns out it was the reply of an early Christian bishop when asked by a confused member of the congregation about the wildly varying ways in which Christian worship was practiced in different parts of the Roman world and what they should do about it. The bishop's advice was to go with the flow: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.... - the implication being that variety was inherent to the early Christian church and there was nothing to do but follow the local practice.