Sunday, 6/30/2019

This Won't End Well

War and Armed Conflict in Film

This Won't End Well


Even though we'd prefer it weren't so, conflicts and war are part and parcel of human civilization. Sometimes it's ideological differences that lead to conflicts, but a lust for political power can also lead to people or entire countries battling each other. A look at the program of FILMFEST MÜNCHEN 2019 reflects this. A whole series of filmmakers has taken up this subject, continuing to find new aspects of these human tragedies that are unfolding every day all over the world, even though there are also glimmers of hope that things might turn out differently.

It wasn't so long ago that Haaf and Daour believed in these glimmers of hope. The documentary THE GREATEST SACRIFICE introduces us to these two men who were full of hope during the Arab Spring of 2011, but who've long since recognized that peaceful demonstrations aren't going to change anything in Syria. Now they've taken up arms to defend themselves and others while everything around them descends into chaos. The feature film THE DAY I LOST MY SHADOW deals with the personal effects of the Arab Spring as well: a mother who's searching for gas canisters is confronted with the brutality of war while her son waits for her alone at home.

In DIVINE WIND, it's women who carry out a conflict with all their might. We follow two young jihadists who are planning an attack on an oil refinery in the Sahara. This is a gripping thriller situated between ruthless fanaticism and cautious attempts at earning trust. In SATURDAY AFTERNOON, a café in Bangladesh becomes a target of terrorists. Based on a true incident, this film is the story of a shocking massacre in which people of other faiths are singled out for execution.

It's not just deluded fanatics who commit inhuman crimes, however. Even the "good guys" have quite a lot of blood on their hands if one looks closely. When Chelsea Manning risked everything to leak more than 750,000 secret US military documents, she enabled a rare and alarming look at the atrocities that are routinely committed in the name of justice. The documentary XY CHELSEA shows us the life of the controversial whistleblower.

Historical conflicts: THE OX WAR and PETERLOO

Some of the films in our program take a look back at wars and conflicts that were fought long ago. The German silent film THE OX WAR is the story of an armed conflict in the 15th century, when a silly argument between farmers and an abbey escalates into a bloody war. In GUERILLA, we learn about a nationalist uprising in Hungary against the Austrian monarchy in 1849. PETERLOO is set in England in 1819, when in a historical episode as tragic as it is significant, a demonstration ends in a massacre.

The potential for conflict has always existed. Whenever people with different interests cross paths, the result can be fatal. But how can such conflicts, which have often raged for years, be solved? Two of our festival films offer an answer. In the drama CRESCENDO #MAKEMUSICNOTWAR, an orchestra comprised of young Palestinians and Israelis helps people to overcome deep-seated hatred and prejudice: it's a touching appeal for reconciliation. The comedy TEL AVIV ON FIRE also shows how the arts can bring the two groups together — even if the artistic content of the eponymous soap opera within the film is of dubious quality.

Director Sameh Zoabi and his new Film TEL AVIV ON FIRE

Where does someone get the idea to make a comedy about a TV show whose scriptwriter is caught between two very different sections of the population? We asked this question of director and scriptwriter Sameh Zoabi, who is introducing his award-winning film in Munich in person.

Your new film TEL AVIV ON FIRE has won several awards and is celebrated by audiences alike. How important is such a reception for you?

Personally it was a relief. This film has always been faced with mistrust from the film industry. Like the humor is not gonna translate, the politics might not come across. It’s always like this when you go to the distributors. And even before when we looked for a way to fund the movie, it was always rejected because it’s not art house. But it’s not full entertainment either because you don’t have stars. It kind of falls into the world inbetween where the audience has to tell: No, we laughed and we understand the politics. Really there was a moment when we screened the film in Venice to a 1,500 people laughing and clapping that made me cry and say: See, I told you guys, it’s gonna work! Even the producers started to doubt after a couple of years. But I knew it was something that was worth holding on to.

Are your own experiences as a script writer in this film?

Absolutely. I couldn’t write the film without connecting with it and the main character. I’m Palestinian growing up inside Israel. I’m an Israeli citizen as well, I speak Hebrew, I take Israeli funding for my film. So I’m living in a world where I am always watched by everybody. The Israelis want to make sure that I’m not getting too Palestinian on them. The Palestinians want to make sure you’re not a sell out and become too Israeli. The Europeans don’t want you to be either so it can be balanced. Since I made my first film I’m always playing with this triangle. The Israelis don’t give you money if you’re too political. And the Europeans don’t give you money if you don’t get any from Israel because you have to get money from your home country as well.

But why did you choose a comedy for this topic?

I didn’t choose the comedy. The comedy chose me. My first film was a comedy. THE IDOL has a lot of funny scenes as well. For me it’s a natural way to tell a story. I’m never interested in topics. I’m not interested in the political issues that you always see in the news. I’m always interested in people that are trapped in the middle. And when you’re trapped there is humor. Plus it’s just the way I grew up. Back at home my friends and my family laugh at everything tragic. It’s a common thing in Palestine. We are under siege. To laugh is the way to sustain ourselves. To tell how miserable we are wouldn’t help us. That’s why we always look for that punchline even while writing. The biggest problem while writing TEL AVIV ON FIRE was to find a reason for the main character to stop at the check point, to find a twist. Once I had that reason I was able to write the script in six weeks. Even when we get stopped by the police you have to think of something. One time when I was shooting a film we were speeding some place between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Our car had an Israeli plate. When the police asked why we were driving so fast the driver who had a good Hebrew accent answered: I saw a lot of Palestinian plates and got nervous and stepped on the gas. That’s how our brain works.

How similar is Palestinian humor to Jewish humor?

I think it’s very similar. We have a lot in common because we both feel under siege. Even though the Israeli have managed to create a country and set up one of the strongest armies in the world they still feel like victims. And the humor reflects that. The Jewish humor has been strong all along ever since the beginning of cinema. We have a lot to catch up there. But we do catch up, I see a lot of Palestinian stand-up comedians, even in New York. Humor liberated people and reminds them how universal we all are. The ability to laugh at yourself is a quality that connects to other people. I had this script before this one which was called CATCH THE MOON. It’s a comedy that place in Gaza. I was trying to raise money for the film but nobody wanted to make it because Gaza isn’t funny. I know that. My story is about a guy who wants to get married. He decides with the family of the bride that they have to provide a dowry. And they decide that the dowry is a car. While looking for a car they get into a lot of funny scenes. But nobody wanted to make that film because nobody is bombing, nobody is killing others. For me having a film about a guy who only wants to get married is much stronger because you can easily connect to him.

What is the role of the filmmaker in that situation? Do you want to only depict reality but also try to change it?

I didn’t understand my responsibility until I made my first short. It was the first Palestinian short to win an award in Cannes and in the Q&As afterwards I was asked how I think the situation can be resolved. What do you think of the Israelis? What do you think of the PLO? Do you agree on suicide bombing? I wasn’t ready for this. I was just making a student movie. I didn’t realize the responsibility that comes with it. That was a wake-up call for me because I never was a political person. My father was a simple man who only wanted to get by. That’s why my characters are a bit like that. They just want to manage this mess. I feel the responsibility and I understand it but I haven’t figure out how to deal with it yet. I’m getting more political as it goes but I don’t know in what direction. I’m on a journey as a filmmaker, both artistically and politically, that I don’t see the end of yet.