Monday, September 05, 2011

Darwish directed a series of PLO-funded films from the early 1970s. He was a pioneer—his shorts that dealt with the armed struggle, first in Jordan, then in Lebanon, were critical documents for any student of the period. More than that, each film text experimented with a particular element of cinematography. They may have all focused on the armed resistance, but the first one was really “about” framing, the second montage, the third sound, and so on. These films had long been forgotten save by old comrades and an enthusiastic group of recent devotees. When I found out that he’d studied at the Moscow Institute, I asked him about Sonallah and Malas, and he told me how they’d all been there together. I asked if he’d worked with Godard in Jordan, “Yes! How’d you guess? I was his production assistant. He was there for only a few months, but while he was here, he worked. He never rested. I’ve never seen that sort of ethic. After what happened, he didn’t know what to do for a couple years with all that footage.” Only later did someone tell me I had been asking the wrong questions.

Mustafa had returned, like so many others, when Oslo opened the door. In 2000 he found out that that door had shut behind him at some point. If he left, there would be no coming back to Palestine during his lifetime. He was working on a film at the moment, the script was ready, the schedule was ready, the budget was ready, the actors were cast. “But, you know, European producers are terrified to work with us. Sundance won’t work with Palestinians unless there are also Israelis involved. It’s so much easier for everybody to work with these lefty Israelis instead. The funny thing is, I read about all these lefty Israeli directors, they’re everywhere. Tel Aviv is filled with them. Jerusalem is filled with them. New York and London are filled with them. Every international film festival is filled with them. My question is this: Where are the right-wing Israeli filmmakers? You’d think that with all this lefty filmmaking, there wouldn’t be an occupation anymore.”

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