Lebanese-U.S. director Ziad Doueiri said Friday he was willing to face jail to film his award-winning movie “The Attack” in Israel, flouting Lebanon’s laws against entering the neighboring Jewish state.
Describing the production there as a “crazy trip,” he told an audience at the Frankfurt Book Fair that it still bothered him that the movie, released this year, had been banned in the Arab world.
The film, adapted from a novel by Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, portrays the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a Palestinian doctor with Israeli citizenship who discovers that his wife carried out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
Doueiri said the project had faced artistic, financial, legal and political challenges from the get-go, including objections to its portrayal of Israel by its main financers from Qatar and Egypt after the film’s completion.
After a festival screening the Qatari team had asked for its name to be removed from the movie’s credits and, when asked why, said “because you are showing the Jewish point of view”, Doueiri recalled.
Its Egyptian producer later did the same, he said.
Lebanon and the 22-member Arab League then banned the film “simply because I hired, I worked with Israeli Jews”, said Doueiri, who grew up in Beirut, stressing the film had to be shot where the story was set.
“The film had been sold everywhere except in the Arab world, which, unfortunately, bothered me a lot, and I am still thinking about it constantly,” said the filmmaker, who worked as a cameraman for Quentin Tarantino on movies such as “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”
“All we care about is telling the story.”
The film was well received at a number of festivals including in Morocco and Dubai, and in April it received three awards at the COLCOA French film festival in Hollywood.
Doueiri, who has both U.S. and Lebanese citizenship, said his lawyer mother had warned him that for a Lebanese “the sentence of setting foot in Israel is three to five years in jail and hard labor.”
“It’s not a simple misdemeanor, it’s not like going through a red light. This is a very serious thing.”
But he also told the discussion on storytelling at the book fair that “of course I was willing to risk it. I didn’t care.
“I thought I had a good story... I am not going to stop because some government is going to tell me ‘you’re not allowed to film’.”
Doueiri, who was born in 1963 and grew up during Lebanon’s civil war involving Israel and other regional powers, acknowledged it had not been easy for him to go to Israel and work “with those people I demonized all my life.”
But he said, to focus on producing the film, he had had to put all prejudices aside.
“And then you start slowly realizing that those people you considered enemies, who are also working in the arts, top-notch actors in Israel, share your values. They think like us,” he said.
Lebanese filmmaker says risked jail to film in Israel