CULTURE

Three directors on the Middle East

As the 5th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival continues in the city, three directors – an Israeli, a Palestinian and an American – met with members of the press to discuss and confront an open wound: the ongoing drama in the Middle East. As the world focuses on the impending war in Iraq, the Palestinian question seems to be getting lower on the list of political agendas. Speaking at a press conference this week, S. Smith Patrick presented her film «The Children of Ibdaa»: «At this moment it would have been impossible to shoot the film and have the children pass through the checkpoints. Back in 1999 we all got into a van and did our shoot. Through my movie, I wanted to stress the dignity of the Palestinian people, of whom I knew very little. When I met the Palestinian children I loved them and admired them. I live in the United States and the image we have of these people is negative to begin with. It’s going to take a long time before the US can focus on the Palestinian problem, and, of course, right now, there is no market for a film like this one.» In «Ford Transit,» director Hady Abu Assad paints the portrait of a taxi driver who realizes the reasons why some men and women choose to go on suicide bombing missions. The director also noted that there are more than 200,000 informers in the Occupied Territories. «The informers make the situation worse and the price is paid by the Palestinian society. Buying out consciousnesses is a crime committed by the Israelis.» The human angle Ram Levoy, an Israeli director, put matters from his point of view: «I might be an Israeli, but I am against the government’s action in the occupied region. With my film ‘Gaza, Closed Closure,’ I wanted to show the Israelis the Palestinians’ human side. The situation in the Gaza Strip in the last 40 years is unbearable. We are all tired of confrontation. The films focuses on a Palestinian family who attacks me verbally, during my efforts to convey to them the positions of the Israeli left. I would also like to point out that all films offer a partial image, and not the complete story.» Asked whether they could see a solution to the problem, both Assad and Levoy seemed cautious. «The only feasible solution would be one country for two states,» said Assad. «Any other solution would lead nowhere. This kind of solution, however, would be suicidal for Israel.» Margaret Smilow, a leading international figure in the documentary world, was also in Thessaloniki. A producer of American educational television who was being feted at the festival, Smilow talked about one of her most recent projects, a two-hour documentary on Akira Kurosawa. This film was one of those screened this week as part of a tribute to her work. «This has been one of the best experiences in the field of production. As far as Kurosawa is concerned, I believe that he was more famous outside Japan. With most of my films I’ve tried to do exactly what I wanted to and I admired the work of the directors with whom I have worked,» said the director. «I also have a special love for music, as it facilitates my communication with the world, bringing me closer to the public.»