Peace after moviemaking?

Jordan-born, Brooklyn-raised director Ghazi Albuliwi's film opens this year’s Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.

December 1, 2013 21:59
4 minute read.
Peace After Marriage movie

Peace After Marriage movie 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

There’s provocative, crazy, outrageous – and then there’s Ghazi Albuliwi, the director of Peace After Marriage (aka Only in New York), which opened this year’s Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival last Saturday night at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

There may need to be a new category invented to describe Albuliwi’s brand of chutzpah, and his utterly politically incorrect sense of humor.

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“I said, ‘I am advocating sexual jihad. I think there should be huge orgies with Arabs and Jews,’” says Albuliwi, recalling his remarks at a press conference at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, when a reporter questioned the premise of Peace After Marriage, which tells the story of a porn-addicted Palestinian-American standup comic (played by Albuliwi and based on many aspects of his life), who marries an Israeli woman so she can get a green card. That might not have offended sensibilities so much in Abu Dhabi, but the Israeli is sweet and sexy and she and Ghazi’s character, Arafat, fall in love.

The Jordan-born, Brooklyn-raised filmmaker, who co-directed the film with his brother Bandar, is surprisingly nonchalant about having his film open the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.

“Do you think I could meet a nice, Israeli girl who is rebelling against her parents? A former IDF soldier, with a gun? It’s OK if no one will do the wedding there, I know an Elvis impersonator rabbi in Vegas who will do it,” he says in a phone interview from his Brooklyn office.

Anything’s possible, I tell him, but then press him: Has he gotten any threats because of his visit? “Threats? No. But if I could get some it would help my social life. Just one or two: ‘We’re gonna kill you, you infidel.’ Women can’t resist a guy in danger.”

All kidding aside, it is a challenge to keep Albuliwi serious for even a few moments, but I try.

“As an artist, you always expose some of yourself,” he says. “Some of what I put in my films is autobiographical and some of it is wildly embellished.” Some of these embellishments are “things I would like to do, while others are just funny moments. It’s a comedy with a lot of truth behind it.”

The entire film, like much of Albuliwi’s persona and his career, challenge stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs. In one particularly absurd scene, Albuliwi’s character takes his entire porn collection to throw it into the East River and is stopped by the cops who suspect he is a terrorist. After he bursts into hysterical tears, the cops end up releasing him – but not before critiquing the porn in his collection.

“My parents have never seen any of my films,” he says, although he is close to his family and says they have been “supportive. They were worried about me making a living as a filmmaker at first, but now they are more worried about the fact that I’m not married.

If I brought home an Israeli girl, at this point, they’d just be relieved that she’s not a man.”

Like the parents in Peace After Marriage, “they are getting older and they are very worried that they won’t see me have children.”

He has relatives in several parts of the West Bank, and at one point actually agreed to an arranged marriage there. The brief union was an unmitigated disaster and was quickly dissolved, although it does serve as the inspiration for a brief flashback in the movie. After it was over, he hung around Israel for a few weeks and got the idea for Peace After Marriage when he met an Israeli girl.

She didn’t realize at first that he was Arab, he says, and when she did, she stood him up for their next date. That rejection started him working on the screenplay for Peace After Marriage.

The screenplay won the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010, and Albuliwi began raising the money to make the film. In addition to the director himself, the film stars the internationally acclaimed Israeli-Arab actress Hiam Abbass (Lemon Tree, The Visitor) as his mother.

“She’s wonderful, it was a pleasure working with her,” says Albuliwi, who co-wrote and acted in Abbass’ directorial debut, Inheritance, last year.

Hany Kamel plays Albuliwi’s father in the film, while Einat Tubi has the role of Miki, Arafat’s greencard bride.

Albuliwi, who counts Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Bruce Lee among his filmmaking influences, sees himself as a New Yorker from an Arab background. He’s more at home discussing the hot new neighborhood in Brooklyn than talking about a Middle East peace plan, and he’s comfortable with that.

But he’s learned the hard way that not everyone is as open-minded as he is.

“After I won the prize at Tribeca for the screenplay, I got a meeting with an Arab foundation” which he declines to name. “They asked me, are there Jewish characters in the film? I said, ‘Yes.’ That was it. They wouldn’t give me any money.”

While being an Arab-American is part of his identity, he doesn’t see himself as a filmmaker who will tell stories that will please the politically engaged.

“I’m all for humanizing Arab characters in the movies,” he says. “But not making them the victims all the time. I’d like to make films for an American audience first and foremost. Funny is funny. I don’t want to be known as an Arab guy. I want to be known as a funny guy who happens to be Arab,” he says.

The JJFF runs through till December 6. Full details can be found on the Jerusalem Cinematheque website:

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