Interview with Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni

Raed Andoni

 “Palestinians are generally depicted in films in the West as terrorists, and in the Middle East as guerillas. In my films, I want to portray Palestinians the way they are. They’re simple human beings like anyone else in the world,” says Palestinian producer and filmmaker Raed Anduni, who broke those stereotypes of Palestinians in cinema. His work reflects, at the same time, their difficult and unjust everyday life under Israeli occupation, their difficulty in movement because of the crossings and checkpoints and their struggle to preserve their identity.

Out of all the Arab countries, you can only come across a “producer,”  in its internationally understood meaning, in Palestine. How was your experience as a producer?

It depends on what we mean by the word “producer.”Film productions in the region are mostlyserials, commercial films or “showcase movies,” if I may say that, which are valued by the amount of the profit they bring in. This commercial character of Arab film productions formed in local peoples’ minds an incorrect stereotype of the producer as an investor. But if we look at cinema from an artistic cultural perspective, as a tool to preserve the memory of peoples, we will find that only a producer’s passion for cinema can motivate him to work in film since working in any other area will get him much more profit than that generated by documentary filmmaking.

Perhaps Palestine is the leading Arab country in this domain simply because there is no film industry in Palestine. Thus, when Palestinians began to make films, they started it independently with auteur film.  The terrible living conditions in Palestine also play a major role in forming the country’s film production. The hard and unjust reality in Palestine triggers questions and produces contradictions that push us Palestinians towards a cinema that raises questions.

What did you study? From where did you get financing for your films?

I didn’t study cinema, I learned it from life. My story is like that of thousands of Palestinians. I studied business management but I was jailed before graduation.  Immediately after my release from prison, the intifada broke out. It was when I went down to the streets to photograph the intifada’s events that I had my first contact with cinema. Since then I’ve been working as a producer and filmmaker.

It’s my passion for cinema that motivated me to work in cinema, not studying. Filmmaking is not like a mathematical equation, if you apply it correctly then you get a successful film. Filmmaking requires high sensitivity, talent and passion.

As for financing, some young filmmakers manage to make films with little funding by borrowing cameras and asking their friends to volunteer in filming and montage. But in general, substantial funding is a must in case you wanted to make feature length documentaries. To do that, you need to find different financing sources, such as pre-sales to international TV channels, or applying for cinema funds, which are all foreign ones. Unfortunately, the only investment in cinema by Arab countries goes to film festivities and not to making films.

The government’s revenues should be spent on the nation. Intellectuals form an essential part of the nation and should be supported for their pioneer role in developing their countries. But I think lack of support for arts is closely connected to politics. Independent cinema is built on freedom of expression and Arabic governments only support voices that advocate them. However, this might change.

You started your career as a producer and later on turned to filmmaking with your film “Improvisation” (2005) which was a milestone not only in your life, but perhaps also in the history of Palestinian documentaries. Even though it’s a film about a country under occupation, it doesn’t tackle the Palestinian cause from a direct political point of view and it doesn’t resemble any other films. How did the idea of “Improvisation” occur?

Many Palestinian directors make films to let off steam. Instead of throwing stones at an Israeli army patrol, they attack the patrol and Israel through their films. But that’s not what cinema is about. The art of filmmaking is the art of storytelling. You can tell the same story in a hundred different ways.

The hard living conditions under Israeli occupation and the emergence of Palestinian cinema with the start of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s cinema production has transformed it into a cinema of slogans. And I am not undermining the importance of the PLO’s cinema productions here; those films form an important part of the Palestinian uprising. However, it took us Palestinians a while to realize that films should both challenge the mind and appeal to the senses. Thus, we must stay away from slogans and delve into the details. Cinema is about details. It should reflect the personal side of the story and not the big picture. Viewers relate to personal stories much more than general slogans.

I’m a close friend of the Joubran family (the main characters of the film), I witnessed the difficult birth of their trio and I was very much moved by it. I felt that their story had to be told.

“Improvisation” follows the Joubran trio, the well-known Palestinian musician family. It remarkably follows internal happenings in the family’s life: the development of the younger brother and his relationship with his older brother, the middle brother’s music studies in Italy, the trio’s attempt to give their first concert as a trio in Paris, and ending with the concert itself. How did you develop the film’s narrative? Did you strictly stick to chronology? How many hours did you film, and how long did the montage take?

It took a whole year to shoot the film. I self financed the first six months with the help of my brother and friends who brought equipment and volunteered in filming. We shot about 150 hours and used them later to promote the film and get funding. We signed a pre-sale contract with France’s ARTE TV, got production funding from Finland, Sundance Fund and from an Australian TV channel. Montage took another year.

I more or less followed the chronological order of events because I reflected the development of an 18-year-old young man’s character. Not doing so might get the viewers lost. I used the “fly on the wall” effect, leaving the camera as a neutral, patient observer that films reality as it is. The trio’s first music rehearsal and their first appearance on stage were really the first ones. However, I recreated reality by putting the brothers in certain circumstances that pushed them to talk about the things I wanted them to talk about.

My close friendship with the family also helped me to shoot the details of each scene with great intimacy and spontaneity. If I were a stranger to them, that would have been impossible. It was this intimacy that made the audience empathize with the Joubran family. Your relationship with the characters is what affects you the most in a film.

Your new film “Fix me” was screened at Dubai International Film Fest and Sundance. Could you tell us more about the film?

I believe that important films are the ones that look for new things. That’s why I tried to undertake an experiment by making a film based on a simple but at the same time deep idea that no one thought of before. I exposed myself to a complex psychological experience by attending psychotherapy sessions. I asked the cameraman to fix his camera behind reflective glass so that it wouldn’t spoil the spontaneity of the sessions.

This film is a complex one and very different from “Improvisation”. It raises general questions about life and sensitive issues that, unable to face them, people usually ignore. Its style also differs from my first film in that it combines elements of fiction and documentary films.

Are you planning to work again as a producer or will you continue with film?

I am ready to work in any field that excites me, so everything is possible. Maybe I moved away a little from production, but I’m still working in that field through my cooperation with my brother’s Film Production House in Ramallah. I’ve also established with my wife, French producer Palmer Badinier, a “Les Films de Zayna” production company which produces films from the Arab world.

This article was published in Tafaseel periodical e-magazine specialized in documentary films. Tafaseel is a publication of Proaction Film company.

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