An Interview with Mohammad Bakri (Director)
Fighting with Art
Q: To you, what kind of person was Emil Habibi?
MB: In a word, he was my friend. He was also kind of my spiritual father, and my teacher. He had a strong sense of responsibility, he was a visionary, he was someone who cried a lot. And I think we can say that he was someone who accepted people’s internal weaknesses. Now, there are two important things to note about him. One is that he was the author of an extremely important book about Palestine, The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist. The novel is important because it seems to be a response of sorts to Zionism, the ideology that proposed constructing a Jewish state in Palestine. You can say that Zionism is the state of Israel itself. With the founding of Israel in 1948, a lot of Palestinian refugees were created. The idea of Zionism created Israel, and the actions of that government stole away the rights of the Palestinians. About 90% of the Palestinians who had been living in the area were displaced in the founding of Israel, and 520 villages disappeared. The protagonist of the novel is a weak person, full of pathos, and he is depicted as a victim. Because this novel is so important to us, since about 1980 I have been performing one-man shows based on it. The other important thing is that he had a sense of humor. A sense of humor is vitally important to artistry, and I feel very deeply the importance of incorporating humor into art. The reason being, I think that it is crucial for art to reach out to the masses, to be understood and accepted by them.
Q: And there are people who support you who also appear in the film.
MB: There are people who, even as Israelis, understand me, although they don’t appear in the film very much. But their numbers are extremely small, and there is no one related to the government among them. Because the government is actually working to drive me out. The Israeli lawyer who appears in the film is Jewish but helps me regardless. I can’t begin to be grateful for that. My oldest son is a big help to me; he’s my son, but I am still so grateful to him. And yet, there is the fear that they are exposing themselves to danger in helping me, and I worry that it will interfere with their lives.
Q: What can art do for people living in miserable conditions?
MB: I think it can shake people out of their slumber and make them face problems. And it can tell stories. It can tell the story of what is happening here to the rest of the world. I hope that the Palestinian people will be grateful for my work, and that they will understand it. After the release of my previous work, Jenin Jenin, a large number of people in the Jenin refugee camp expressed the feeling that they were grateful to me for making that kind of piece. I want my work to be useful to them, to help them.
(Compiled by Yokoyama Sara)
Interviewers: Yokoyama Sara, Hiroya Motoko / Interpreter: Yamamoto Asako / Translator: Kendall Heitzman
Photography: Kaito Yoshimasa, Shimizu Kai / Video: Shimizu Kai / 2007-10-09