Director Hany Abu-Assad grew up in Nazareth before moving to Amsterdam to study at college with the goal of becoming an engineer. His route to filmmaking began as a boast. Trying to impress a girl he liked, he told her he was a director. He wasn’t, but the seed was planted. With “Paradise Now” he received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, surely a sign of respect for how well he handled this very sensitive topic.
As he told The Japan Times in an interview in Shibuya: “Whatever you do, you’re going to upset people on both sides; it’s a trap. But others will appreciate it, because there are enough people in this world who are open-minded and want to know more.”
The Bush White House would describe the characters in your film very simply: “Evil.” Was your film a response to this sort of simplification?
No, I mean, you can’t become a politician. Politicians, in order to lead, they describe the world in black and white. An artist, in order to make art, has to show you the complexity of life. We have different goals. It’s not an answer; I will not allow myself to be part of this discussion, because you will lower yourself to a ridiculous level.
What sort of conditions were you shooting in, in Nablus?
Very difficult. Everything. It was such a horrible experience that if I could go back in time and choose not to do the film, I definitely wouldn’t do it! It was an experience of being under threat of being killed every day. I don’t think it’s worth it. We were afraid of Hamas, but in the end, who was against us? Fatah. And a small group, they started to make trouble for us. They kidnapped my location manager and forced us to leave.
Was that a point in time when the Israelis were bombing a lot?
Yeah. Every day there was an invasion. Five or six times there were curfews, when you couldn’t go outside for two, three days. We were stuck. You’d look outside and see nobody. It was crazy.
How did you deal with the hard conditions on the shoot?
In the end, we wound up changing locations every one hour. Like, we were supposed to shoot at one place, but it was bombed, so we’d have to find another place on the fly. We were always prepared to move. But the whole concept of the film was to take the language of fiction and mix it with documentary. Because the language of fiction is to try and dictate reality; with documentary, the reality dictates to you. But I thought I could make a connection between the two.
Did that also inform your choice to shoot on DV or film?
I shot on film, super-35. It was funny. In the beginning we thought we had to shoot on video, because it would give the look of reality. Then, if you think more, you think, “Why does it look more real?” Then you discover that it’s not more real, it’s just an agreement that it looks more real; because of home video, we immediately connect this shaky camera and no lighting as being “real.” But if you look at the images, they’re very far from reality. Reality has depth, has light . . .
. . . and it doesn’t shake! (Laughs.)
Even when you’re running!
How did you create the characters of the bombers?
First of all, you use your own experience as a Palestinian, the humiliation from the occupier, it’s every day. I talked to the families of people who did it, political organizers who defend these actions, and read the history behind it, in different cultures, trying to see where this suicide action comes from. Do you know what the first story in history of suicide action is?
No, Samson. In the bible. He was humiliated, and pulls down the temple, crying, “God, let me die with my enemy.” I was amazed to find this in the Jewish mythology. Not in the Islamic! (Laughs.) And the moral of that story, what humanity came to the conclusion 3,000 years ago, is that humiliation leads to this.
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