UK's Arab community made big contribution during pandemic, say 'London Lockdown' film-makers

Director Namak Khoshnaw and producer Emir Nader’s film documents the lives of some of the British capital’s minority heroes during the pandemic

One of the key subjects of the film is Osman El Tayar (pictured), a British-Sudanese consultant doctor and son of Adil El Tayar, a renowned organ transplant specialist who became the first NHS surgeon to pass away from Covid-19 Courtesy Caabu
One of the key subjects of the film is Osman El Tayar (pictured), a British-Sudanese consultant doctor and son of Adil El Tayar, a renowned organ transplant specialist who became the first NHS surgeon to pass away from Covid-19 Courtesy Caabu

British Arabs made a huge contribution to London’s coronavirus response, the film-makers behind a documentary on the community’s experience during the pandemic have said.

BBC Arabic producer Emir Nader and director Namak Khoshnaw discussed their film, London Lockdown, at an online event hosted by the Council for Arab British Understanding, and explained their desire to capture the events unfolding around them.

“The city was empty and, of course, as journalists we wanted to go out and capture the story around us,” Mr Nader said.

“The news around the pandemic was to do with the massive contributions of migrant communities, minority ethnic communities and Arabs especially,” he added.

Mr Khoshnow described how he wanted to bring his experience filming crises in the Middle East to capturing the onset of the pandemic in the UK.

“We wanted to have something outside the hospital,” he said. “It is our job to capture those moments, whether ISIS is attacking Mosul or Covid is attacking Trafalgar Square,” the director explained.

The film follows a series of characters through their day-to-day lives during the coronavirus crisis and is book-ended by piano music played in London’s empty spaces by Jordanian-Palestinian classical pianist Iyad Sughayer.

One of the central subjects of the film is Osman El Tayar, a British-Sudanese consultant doctor and son of Dr Adil El Tayar, a renowned organ transplant specialist who became the first National Health Service surgeon to die with Covid-19.

Dr El Tayar, 63, had worked in his native Sudan and Saudi Arabia and had volunteered to work to support the battle against the coronavirus.

The film captures deeply intimate family moments as Dr El Tayar’s body was returned to Sudan in the midst of lockdown and Osman and his 14-year-old brother were forced to remain at home.

London Lockdown shows how the pair had participated in the funeral rites from their living room over the phone.

In the film, the younger Dr El Tayar can be heard expressing his sorrow that he could not go to the funeral where it would have been his duty to pray over the grave. “He was one of the victims of the war against corona,” the doctor said of his father.

The film-makers said they had been moved to be involved in such a personal time for the El Tayar family.

“[We had] a huge feeling of being humbled of a family letting you into a moment like that,” Mr Nader explained.

“He recognised that there was something important to be told. And I guess his family's sacrifice,” he added.

The documentary ends on a note of optimism, showing members of Britain’s Arab community meeting, albeit with social distancing, for Eid.

The film, which originally aired on BBC Arabic has reached a wider audience on the BBC’s English language outlets.

Updated: July 29, 2020 09:07 PM

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