Coping with attacks and insults

Renowned Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri is just one among a number of filmmakers being attacked for filming in Israel.

Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri attends a photocall for the movie ‘The Insult’ at the 74th Venice Film Festival (photo credit: REUTERS/ALESSANDRO BIANCHI)
Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri attends a photocall for the movie ‘The Insult’ at the 74th Venice Film Festival
Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult was recently dropped from a film festival in Ramallah, and the banning of this film illustrates just how tangled the world of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement has become, as BDS increasingly advocates boycotting the work of Arab filmmakers.
The cancellation of Doueiri’s The Insult from the Days of Cinema Festival in Ramallah came after the BDS movement called for a boycott of the film because Doueiri made the 2012 movie, The Attack, in Israel.
The Attack, which is about a Palestinian doctor who discovers his wife is a suicide bomber, starred several Israeli actors, both Muslims and Jews, among them Ali Suliman (Paradise Now, Dancing Arabs), Reymonde Amsallem and Uri Gavriel.
The Attack was based on the novel by the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra.
The Attack won a number of international awards, including at the Marrakech International Film Festival and the Istanbul International Film Festival.
Doueiri’s latest film, The Insult, which won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for its Palestinian star, Kamel El Basha, at the Venice International Film Festival, tells the story of a feud between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee in contemporary Beirut. It is Lebanon’s official submission for consideration for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
The cancellation of the film in Ramallah highlights disagreements over exactly what it means to uphold the boycott.
CNN reported that BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said Doueiri had not apologized for making The Attack in Israel, and that screening The Insult would have served to condone Doueiri’s decision to make a film in Israel.
But, according to CNN, Days of Cinema festival director Hanna Atallah said he had kept the BDS criteria in mind when he chose The Insult to close the festival. Since The Insult was not made in Israel, showing it did not break BDS rules, or so Atallah thought.
“We are very proud that we don’t have censorship of films in Palestine,” Atallah told CNN. “Every Palestinian citizen [should have] the right to watch a product and decide whether it is good or not.”
In the end, though, due to the controversy, city authorities ordered Atallah to pull the film because they could not guarantee security at the screening.
El Basha told CNN, “There is a bunch of people, a small group of people that have succeeded in forcing their opinion on the municipality of Ramallah... to censor our movies and our job. It is a catastrophe for our struggle and for our life.”
The banning is the latest in a series of headaches for Doueiri, who was briefly detained upon arriving at the Beirut airport after The Insult won the Best Actor prize at Venice and was ordered to appear before a Lebanese military court, according to Agence France-Presse.
No charges were filed and he was released shortly afterwards, but those familiar with the case speculated in the press that he was detained due to that fact that he had made a movie in Israel. Lebanese citizens are not allowed to visit Israel, since the two countries are officially in a state of war. But Doueiri said he had been in and out of Lebanon many times since the release of The Attack without incident.
“I am profoundly hurt. I came back to Lebanon with a prize from Venice. The Lebanese police have authorized the broadcast of [The Insult]. I have no idea who is responsible for what has happened,” the director told AFP.
Doueiri burst onto the international film scene in the late Nineties with his autobiographical drama West Beirut, about teen boys coming of age in the shadow of that country’s civil war during the Seventies.
I interviewed him for The New York Post in the summer of 1999.
He was brash, charming and ambitious, and West Beirut received rave reviews. Prior to making West Beirut, he had been working on movie crews, mainly as an assistant camera operator on such movies as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. That alone would have been a huge achievement for someone who grew up in war-torn Beirut, and the fact that Doueiri went on to become a writer/director was phenomenal.
But even back then, Doueiri faced issues with the Lebanese government.
He told me that an Israeli company had bought West Beirut for release, but the Lebanese government objected. “So we pulled the sale because the Lebanese government said, ‘If you sell it to Israel, we cannot let you go back to Lebanon,’” he said in 1999.
One young director who was profoundly influenced by West Beirut was Maysaloun Hamoud, the Israeli Arab filmmaker who made In Between, the award-winning story of three Arab roommates in Tel Aviv.
In an interview in late 2016, she told The Jerusalem Post: “I saw West Beirut by Ziad Doueiri, in 2002. That movie, it made me change the way I was thinking about movies. I thought, ‘F**k, I want to do West Beirut. My West Beirut.’ I met him when he was in Tel Aviv filming The Attack. He was an inspiration and a mentor for me. The combination of a personal story with a story about war was so intense. The movie didn’t get the recognition it deserved. It’s a masterpiece.”
Hamoud’s success with In Between has brought out some of the contradictions in the BDS movement, since BDS would have audiences boycott her film, as well as those of other Israeli Arab directors such as Maha Haj (Personal Affairs) and Shady Srour (Holy Air). But in spite of the BDS attitude toward movies directed by Israeli citizens, In Between was one of five movies by Israelis screened at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival in September 2017.
Hamoud has been criticized for her decision to accept money from Israeli film funds, but according to her, “People said, ‘Don’t take the Israeli money, get Arab funding.’ This is an oxymoron. There were no Arab film funds, there was nothing I could get.”
Turning down Israeli funding – which she was entitled to as an Israeli citizen – meant that she wouldn’t have been able to make her film.
The BDS ethos is being used to turn audiences away from Arab directors and shut down collaboration among filmmakers. Said Ben Said, a well-known Tunisian-born movie producer, revealed in an article in the French newspaper Le Monde on November 6 that the 28th Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia had rescinded its invitation for him to preside over the jury because he had worked with Israeli film director Nadav Lapid and was a judge of the Israeli Competition at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer.
Ben Said has produced movies for such prominent directors as David Cronenburg, Roman Polanski and Brian De Palma.
“No one can deny the misery of the Palestinian people, but it must be admitted that the Arab world is, in its majority, antisemitic,” Ben Said wrote. “This hatred of Jews has redoubled in intensity and depth not because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with the rise of a certain vision of Islam.”
Perhaps Doueiri said it best nearly two decades ago: “I’ve found that over the years, the more I learn about politics, the more confused I get.”