An Interview with Mahdi Fleifel (Director)
Me, Palestine, and the People I Love
Q: Not being entirely an insider nor outsider, you give the impression that this perhaps is your own journey in search for an identity. Among your many family members, why did you choose Abu Eyad as your protagonist?
MF: Initially I wasn’t planning on making a documentary. I was just shooting for the research of a fiction film. The local support for this was provided by my friend Abu Eyad. Thanks to his charisma and charm, I found him often inside my camera frame. When I gradually started to film him in earnest, this film began its conception. Didn’t you think he was an attractive character? He’s like the Robert De Niro of Palestine.
Q: We also meet your family members. What did you have in mind as you filmed them?
MF: When I began to think of this as a documentary, I kept in mind that I want to film the protagonists not as movie characters but through an effort to understand them as family. For example, my uncle Said undergoes a transformation after his brother dies. But for me as a child he was my hero and also an elder brother who’d take me to the movies. My grandfather had closed himself off completely. Wishing only to leave in peace, life in a camp where 70,000 people live in one square kilometer was terribly frustrating. His shouting and yelling expressed that. Nevertheless I kept filming him in an effort to understand him and spend time with him.
Understanding them became a very essential point for me. Thanks to them living in the camp, I felt motivated to return. But gradually as I looked at them through the camera lenses, my feelings changed. I became interested in them not merely as family, not merely as subjects, but as fellow human beings whose concerns and dreams I wanted to understand and share.
Q: When Abu Eyad is moving house from the Fatah office, he tosses away the book about the freedom struggle, A World Not Ours.
MF: I interpret Abu Eyad’s behavior as representative of many Palestinians. His action has not much to do with Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, or nationality. The scene simply expresses his hopelessness that there is no place he can belong, that wherever he goes in the world he would be ejected. I also have no place I can call home and that is something I share with him. But I am still a lucky refugee, as I have state recognition and a passport, and I guess I can call London my base. He and I are different, but because we have things in common, I could understand his frustration and suffering.
Q: What happened to Abu Eyad?
MF: With the invitation of this film to many film festivals, my producer and I tried our best to get him invited as guest. At the Berlin Film Festival, the city supported his trip and he was able to attend. This led to his political asylum in Germany. He now lives in Germany. Things ended well for him, but the camp still has not met its happy ending.
(Compiled by Nomura Yukihiro)
Interviewers: Nomura Yukihiro, Inoue Saya / Interpreter: Kinoshita Yumiko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kotaki Yukie / Video: Kimuro Shiho / 2013-10-15