Possibly my strongest ever doc character

Location Four poster bed again | Mood Hyperventilating | Date 13 June 2006
Author (full name): 
Franny Armstrong
Four poster bed again
Tony and kd: "You make me feel so grand, I wanna hand the world to you, You seem to understand each foolish little scheme I'm scheming, dream I'm dreaming"
Sunstroke again. Will I ever learn?
13 June 2006

Filming Al on the flattened site of his old house. Filming Al on the flattened site of his old house.

Photograph:  Chris Graythen 


Think we may have found our strongest ever doc character. A journalist from the local paper recommended him to us "Wait till you talk to him, he's quite a guy..."

We'd been thinking of a rig construction worker or an Exec. A cliché. But Al is a palaeontologist. When they are exploring new areas, they drill three miles down, suck up some mud and give it to Al. He examines the fossils and advises whether it's a likely spot for oil.

I adore this because, firstly, we're doing a worldwide industry that spans the globe literally and metaphorically and yet the bit we're focusing on is microscopic. The very smallest part of an incomprehensibly all-encompassing whole. And secondly, it ties in with the whole geological past, we-are-just-a-blip, the Oil-Age-is-fleeting theme. Hey, we could even have a shot of some critter (as Al calls them) in his microscope, which is exactly the same as one we saw in the opening animation sequence. Nice.

Only shame is that he's a white man. But then I guess the world is run by and for white men, so hardly surprising that those are the characters with most resonance for Crude.

But that's just the background. The main reason he's so good - and Fernand takes some beating - is the almost violent emotional reaction both Lizzie and I had after speaking to him for a couple of hours. Think he may well steal the film.

Lizzie, unfortunately, disagrees. Well, not that Al would be fantastic for the film, but that the film may not be fantastic for Al. Though he rescued more than 100 people, he is haunted by all the people he didn't save. He said he "lost his humanity" that day - because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

There is no question that he is extremely traumatised by what happened - was on the edge of tears throughout the interview we shot tonight.

Lizzie reckons we shouldn't take his mental health into our hands. That he is too fragile to be in a film. That the film should be sacrificed for the man, not the other way round.

After quite a dramatic fight (for us - both can't stand conflict) - heightened by a tropical storm, which would've been a total cliché if we'd been starring in a movie - we agreed to speak to the sister of a friend who lives out here and happens to be a psychologist for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Sounds like a good solution.

I can't remember ever having such an emotional response to meeting a new character. Amazing the intimacy and depth of connection you can instantly get with a camera and the right person.

And as I type this.... an email from Al! "Truly a slice working with y'all". Ha ha ha. See what I mean? And he just sent me his diary from the post-Katrina few days. Which frankly sounds a lot more interesting than writing mine, so over and out.