European Film Screenings: Romantic drama Flying Home uses pigeons as a metaphor for the simple life, says director
Partly shot in the UAE with help from Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa, Flying Home by Belgian filmmaker Dominique Deruddere features Irish actor Jamie Dornan before he achieved cult status as Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey.
In Flying Home (2014), which is showing at the European Film Screenings, Dornan plays Wall Street whizz-kid Colin Montgomery, who is given a week to sign up a potential client – a wealthy sheikh – or risk losing his job. To impress the sheikh, Montgomery ends up going to Flanders in Belgium, and, in an attempt to track down the perfect racing pigeon for the sheikh, finds himself falling for the pigeon owner’s granddaughter.
Deruddere talks to The National about filming in the UAE, working with rising star Dornan, and the difficulties of getting pigeons to do what you want.
What drove you to make a romantic film with a focus on pigeons?
It’s not a film about racing pigeons, it’s more about me as a filmmaker thinking of his native country. And it’s about love, of course. I have lived in Los Angeles for eight years. One day I was reading a script that I didn’t like, and I looked up into the sky and saw these racing pigeons. I thought I was dreaming, I’d never expected to see racing pigeons flying across the skies of Los Angeles. Then I found out that one of my neighbours was a pigeon fancier. He told me that it’s an international sport. I visited him a few times to learn about the birds. That was the starting point.
What led you to create the character of the sheikh, played by Ali Suliman?
The film is fictional. But I found out that Dubai has a pigeon fanciers club. I was intrigued by the fact that even in the Emirates there are passionate pigeon fanciers. I discovered that some Flemish people are invited to Dubai to work with these pigeons, to make them better. A good racing bird is worth a lot of money – it’s like a Ferrari.
How was it for you filming in the UAE?
I was agreeably surprised because you have a lot of professional crew and top technicians. We filmed mostly at Qasr Al Sarab and also one scene in Dubai, in October 2013. It was very nice working in the UAE.
How did you come to cast Jamie Dornan – who was almost unknown at the time – in the lead role?
My casting directors in Britain had told me about him and several other actors. They sent me an uncut scene from this British TV series (The Fall) in which Jamie played a serial killer, so I saw him and thought he was obviously a very solid actor. I asked him to come over to Belgium to see if it would work with the couple of girls who had made it to the finals, so I could see how the couple could work. It turned out that Jamie and Charlotte De Bruyne (who plays Isabelle) were the ideal match.
Were you shocked when he then suddenly achieved international fame for 50 Shades of Grey?
Flying Home had finished filming already when he was offered 50 Shades. I remember reading in the newspaper that Jamie had been chosen to play the main guy, so I wrote him an email and made fun of him about it. All of a sudden he is now a world famous actor. I’m happy for him.
What’s Jamie’s character like in Flying Home?
He is a cynical banker who only thinks about money and has no respect for others. That changes when he comes to Belgium and meets regular people leading simple lives. He feels attracted to their lifestyle. And all the simplicity is symbolised in the pigeon, a bird that represents peace and love.
How difficult was it to work with pigeons?
We always knew they would be trouble. A dog you can work with, but a pigeon, I would not advise anybody to do it. They don’t listen. But we always had a specialist on the set. One scene features the arrival of a bird coming home. The cameraman, the sound guy and myself waited all day long for that bird to arrive. When it finally came, it didn’t do what we wanted. I used to hate pigeons in a way. But now I have a little more respect for what they can do.
• Flying Home is showing as part of the European Film Screenings at 8pm on Thursday October 29 at Novo cinemas, World Trade Centre Mall, Abu Dhabi and the next day at 8pm at Ibn Battuta Mall cinema