Sunday, July 7, 2013

Arab’s ban on The Attack backfires

Arab’s ban on The Attack backfires
...Decades after Ayatollah Khomeini’s ’s fatwa shot Satanic verses’s popularity skywards


Photo from Jerusalem Film Festival web site.
Some boycott orders end up with quite the opposite effect. Yes, many a ban has; much to the irritation of those that decreed it, turned out counter-productive. And, so; countless viewers that might not have bothered to see The Attack are likely to throng the Jerusalem Cinematheque, venue of the annual Jerusalem Film Festival, this week because of this movie.

This year’s Jerusalem Film Festival (JFF) opened on 4 July and is billed to close on the 13th with The Attack showing on Thursday, 11 July. Launched in 1984, the Jerusalem Film Festival owes its origin to Lia van Leer, a former judge at the Cannes Film Festival.

The following quote from the jff website, gives an idea of what The Attack is about: “Dr. Amin Jaafari is a Palestinian doctor, an esteemed surgeon at a Tel Aviv hospital. Amin lives at a safe distance from the the daily reality of the Occupation experienced by most Palestinians.

“One day, the victims of a suicide bombing are brought to the hospital where he works, and our good doctor treats all those who don’t refuse to be treated by an Arab. (But) Late at night, after the end of a harrowing shift, he is summoned back to the hospital, this time to identify the bomber: his wife.

“Stricken with sorrow and guilt, Amin goes to Nablus to trace his wife’s final journey, to try to understand what could have led her to commit such a horrific act”. What a plot!

Curiosly, The Attack, a film by Lebanese-born director, Ziad Doueiri, is banned in the home country of this US-trained movie-maker. Although the picture was earlier granted permit for screening in Lebanon, that license was later revoked on the grounds that parts of the film was shot in Israel, using Israeli actors, in violation of a 1955 Lebanese Anti-Israel Boycott Law.

And, in May, this year the Arab League reportedly called for boycott of Doueiri’s movie in all of its 22-member countries. Nonetheless, The Attack has been drawing a staggering number of viewers everywhere it is shown because of its censorship by the Arab League.

Speaking on Talking Movies, a culture programme on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Doueiri told the presenter, Tom Brook: “The boycott is because I showed the protagonists on the same level as the antagonists. It’s ridiculous. I’m upset, I’m upset. There were many, many nights I would wake up in frustration and ask myself, ‘Why would you want to boycott a movie’”?

The movie director went on to provide the answer. He claimed his film, published by Cohen Media Group, was banned by the Arab League because he refused to demonise Israel. Also speaking on Tom Brook’s presentation, film critic with Slant Magazine, Tomas Hachard shares Doueiri’s view of the reason behind the Arab League’s call for boycott of The Attack.

According to Hachard, the film is neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli. He further added that, the balanced slant of Doueiri’s movie is a commendable essence of any good piece of art and it is a shame the boycott would deprive countless people the opportunity of watching a good movie.

However, Andrew Kadi of The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, sees things differently. Although Kadi has refused to see the now controversial movie, he argued: “He (Doueiri) violated what both Lebanese people and Lebanese government were calling for, which is not to have relation with Israel”.

In deed, Kadi sees more grounds for boycott beside shooting of the film in Israel and working with Israeli actors, contrary to the 1955 Lebanese Anti-Israel Boycott Law. The use of a Jewish actor to play a Palestinian character hints at mischief on the part of the film-maker, Kadi intones.

Whatever the case, it must be pointed out, that in the Arab world, where killing to preserve family or clan honour is part of the culture, every Palestinian might have shunned the controversial role to avoid being stigmatised a traitor.

When confronted by Mr. Brook about, whether he couldn’t have been more prudent by avoiding conflict with Lebanese law and shooting his film outside Israel, Doueiri’s response was: “The film is about Palestinian and Israel. So, you go from Palestine to Israel for authenticity. Where’s the problem with that”?

Censorship has been known to backfire, enhancing popularity because many that would otherwise have not bothered to see the movie or read the book in question are driven by curiosity to know, whether the ban was justified or not.

The Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie, is perhaps the most telling example of this backlash against censorship. And, now almost 25 years after controversy failed to dim sale of Rushdie’s Satanic verses, the popularity of Doueiri’s movie seems poised to soar astronomically because of the Arab League’s call for its boycott.

The Arab boycott has sparked curiosity and boosted awareness as well as increased box-office earnings in countries where The Attack can be screened. But, as the film-maker told Mr. Brook, it’s not the kind of publicity he wanted for his movie.

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