27  06  2004

Cinema - Palestine

Interview with Tawfik Abu Wael

Born in 1976 in Um El-Fahem, the second Palestinian city of Israel, < b>Tawfik Abu Wael studied cinema in the university of Tel Aviv before teaching comedy in the Hassan Arafe school in Jaffa. After six short films and various documentaries largely prized in different festivals, he has made his first feature film. Atash (" Thirst"). Selected for the Week of the Critique of the last Cannes Film Festival, the film got the Fipresci price of the parallel sections of the “Semaine et de la Quinzaine des réalisateurs”. Euromedcafe met this young promising film-maker beginning July in the Institut du Monde Arabe ( in Paris, on the occasion of the 7th Biennial of the Arab cinema Atash took back the price Maroun Bagadi, Special Price of the jury.

Was Atash easy to finance?
No. I had to satisfy myself with a small budget (about 600 000 euros). Historically, it is the first Palestinian movie which doesn't deal directly with the conflict with Israel and which deepens inside the relations of a Palestinian family. Therefore, to find the financing was paradoxically, a problem, notably in Europe. They said: where is the conflict, where are the soldiers? I succeeded however in making the film with a small budget, while working with my friends of the university. It was my first feature, my first 35 mm, the actors were not professionals: I had a lot of pressure on the shoulders. Definitely I wanted to turn in Um El-Fahem, a Palestinian city in Israel, on the" green line" and wanted the actors to come from this zone. I was convinced that I would find my comedians: there is no cinema in Um El-Fahem, it is a virgin place. It was difficult but exciting at the same time. I obtained the financing among others from the Dutch fund Hubert Bals, from the fund Yoshua Rabinovitch and from an Israeli television. But in Israel, the film industry is completely governmental, via associations.

What vision from your country did you give in your film?
I hope that the film will be projected in Israel, but the problem is that it is an Arab film and in Arab language, and that as a rule the Israelis find it difficult to consider us as human beings. We Palestinians live a situation of almost Third World. Above all they were not waiting for such a movie of my part. They told me: you are a very good director, you have the talent, the film is good, but why this topic? There is a colonialist viewpoint on the Palestinians that prevents to establish a dialogue with the European public, the Israeli public but also the Arab public. If the film had been Turkish or Iranian, it would have been a lot easier to accept. The public goes to see Palestinian films to feel in peace with themselves, to have the demonstration that the Palestinians endure. And all of a sudden, they have a film before them that could be Russian, or Italian, it is a film with universal characters, a family, a conflict between men and women. I know that my way is not easy, but I believe that my movies will survive history. In 100 years, they will be a lot more interesting to see than of others to know my culture better. Elie Suleiman is a big director, but he also deals with the conflict under the angle of the black comedy, what probably facilitates him the things. For me it is complicated, because I don't exist because of Israel, I exist through my films and I cannot call on soldiers, on check-points every time I want to express to myself. It is good to make some films in this direction, but this is not cinema. And as Bergman says ": if you don't have anything to say, remain silent".

Which are your main influences?
François Truffaut, Andreï Tarkovski, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese. I like the movements of camera of the Americans, the visual aspect of the Russian films, the histories of Truffaut... Most of the time, I see the films in video because few films arrive to Israel. It is a small country and as everywhere, one sees a lot of commercial movies there. However, my work in the film archive of the university allowed me to view many films.

Where according to you is the intercultural dialogue between Europe and the countries of the South and the East of the Mediterranean basin?
I think that there is not a dialogue, but a monologue, and this is a problem. My film is a dialogue that must entail reactions, that calls to the heart but also to the intellect. I am of Arab culture and I treat what seems to me the more interesting : the conscience. I like the metaphysics, the classic creations that influence me more that the modern: the classic painting, Shakespeare's theatre. But I come from a very poor culture, because the Arab culture is currently a disaster. Cinema is made of images, turning sites and stories. We have very good stories and sites (in particular the Egyptian cinema, brilliant on the level of actors and film sets) but we haven’t got good images. There is not a sense in our images, the best of which express themselves in the writing which is closer to drawing or painting. I am of Arab culture, but I don't have any Arab sources in terms of film making. Such is the situation: we don't have a culture. For my part, I have produced a culture and I tried to create some pictures, my style, from my existence, from my life as Ara, Palestinian, Moslem of the Middle East. But my influences are Tarkovski, Shakespeare...

When are you going to start your next project?
My existence is related to film making and I suffer when I don't make films. The problem is money and to finance my next project, I have to wait for the international sales of Atash which is going to be taken to many festivals : Jerusalem, Valencia, Sarajevo, The Havana, Miami, Edinburgh...

Fabien Lemercier