The Jerusalem Film Festival is the most important film event in Israel and for the past 30 years it has screened hundreds of Israeli movies, some of which went on to win major awards around the world. This year however, the stars of the festival were two Muslims, directors Mohsen Makhmalbaf from Iran and Ziad Doueiri from Lebanon. Both their movies, The Gardener and The Attack respectrively, were shot in Israel and received rapturous receptions from the Israeli audience.
Makhmalbaf attended the Festival as its guest of honour but Doueiri told me he was eager to attend and join his Israeli and Palestinian production team at the film’s premiere. But doing so would certainly lead to his imprisonment upon his return to his hometown of Beirut, he said. In fact, he is already in trouble with the Lebanese authorities for violating the Lebanon’s 1955 Israel boycott by shooting in Israel and working with Israeli crew and cast. The Attack has been banned in Lebanon and ignored by the rest of the Arab world. “This is hypocrisy,” he said. “Why don’t they ban films made by Palestinian filmmakers, who make similar films in Israel and sometimes with Israeli money?”
The Attack follows an award-winning Israeli-Palestinian surgeon who discovers that his Christian wife was the suicide bomber responsible for the blast that killed 17 diners in Tel Aviv, where he lives. He heads to the West Bank to confront those who recruited her.
The Israeli audience was by and large impressed by Doueiri’s take on the subject albeit some saw it as too far-fetched, saying that there had never been an Israeli-Palestinian suicide bomber, let alone a Christian or a married woman.
Doueiri had visited Israel three times and spent ample time in Tel Aviv before he embarked on making the movie in order to understand the psyche and mentality of the Israelis. “I learned you are just as fragile as we are, just as insecure as we are,” he told the Israeli audience via Skype. “It humanises that element, of people who were viewed as an enemy. There is a sad reality on the ground. This is one aspect of Israel. I’ve seen another aspect that is terrific.”
The Attack is the only Arab movie to premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival, because many Arab filmmakers, including Oscar-nominated Palestinian director, Hany Abu Asad, whose recent film Omar had won the Jury award at Cannes Un Certain Regard, boycott Israeli cultural events.
Unlike The Attack, not only was Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film, The Gardner, which dwells on religion in general and the Baha sect in particular, not banned in Lebanon for having been shot in Israel, it was even accorded the Gold Aleph Best Documentary award at the Beirut International Film festival.
It was the first time that Makhmalbaf, director of films including Kandahar and Boycott, had presented a film at an Israeli film festival.
The audience attending the festival were mostly left-leaning liberals, who seem a minority in the Jewish state. In fact, a 10 minute walk from the Cinematique over the hill and through the ancient walls of the old city of Jerusalem, plunges you deeply into a vicious conflict of mistrust and hatred that seems light years away from the festival’s utopic atmosphere. You can sense the simmering tension between Arabs and Jews, who are jostling to fit in the confines of this ancient city.
As I walked down the ancient market, late in the evening, a group of Palestinian youth, suspecting that I was Jewish, shouted at me in Hebrew “get out of here, Jew!” and, when I arrived at the Ben Gurion airport to catch my flight back to the US, I was led to a secluded room, where a security guard scrutinised every item I was carrying and every piece of garment I was wearing. My Israeli passport was to no avail. Unfortunately, mistrust in the Holy Land will continue to underpin the relationship between Jews and Arabs, and for now, films are not going to change that.
——Sam AsiRead More »