DOX interviewed the filmmakers about their expectations and their perception of this rather unusual project.
The project of making four 3-minute documentaries came about in the aftermath of a pitching workshop in Ramallah given by UK producers Jess Search from BritDoc and Beadie Finzi in May 2006 at Shashat, an organization seeking to promote the Palestinian filmmaking community with focus on women’s cinema. The workshop participants wanted to create an opportunity to pitch a project in a real market, and this led to the deal with Channel 4 to make “3-minute wonders from Palestine”. Beadie Finzi became the executive producer on the project, which received financial support from the British Council and the Karim Rida Said Foundation.
Four projects from filmmakers Alia Arasoughly, Dima Abu Ghoush, Wafa Jamil and Mohanad Yaqubi were selected, and the films were shot within three weeks in the West Bank. Editing was planned with British editors in London but only Alia Arasoughly and Dima Abu Ghoush made it there. Mohanad Yaqubi did the editing in Ramallah, and Wafa Jamil was never allowed to finish her film, as she was denied permission to leave the West Bank by Israeli soldiers. Alia Arasoughly made a longer version of her film, and Mohanad Yaqubi is currently seeking production funds in UK to make a longer version of his.
DOX: “What were your expectations when you got involved in this project?”
Mohanad Yaqubi: I thought that it would be a good chance to have some time to be more immersed in the film. It motivated me to start thinking seriously about the feature documentary film, and I was expecting that it would make me a little more visible on the British scene and give me experience with it.
Dima Abu Ghoush: I have to admit that maybe I had high expectations from this experience. I hoped to meet producers interested in co-productions with filmmakers from my country. I hoped that making this film for Channel 4 might lead to working on a longer film, but that didn’t happen!!! Well, I did meet a few producers at Sheffield Film Festival, but nothing concrete developed so far.
(The initial project was planned so filmmakers would pitch a project at the Sheffield International Film Festival, but this never happened because Jess Search and Beadie Finzi were unable to attend the festival and introduce the filmmakers.)
Alia Arasoughly: I expected that the executive producer would work more closely with us on our vision and production, and that there would be more of a “creative and professional relationship” between us. We all produced on our own in Palestine, shooting our material, etc. It is good that we got to do the productions, and we benefited from the project, but I think it could have been more empowering for us if we were in direct contact with Channel 4 and also had a say about how we each spent the production money for our three-minute wonder, as each one of us could have done different things, and perhaps cheaper, and prioritized differently.
DOX: “How was the collaboration with the British editors?”
Dima: Working with an editor for the first time is not easy in general. But I was really lucky; the editor I worked with was really good. We discussed the structure and style of the piece and he was very cooperative and helped make the best of the material I had and make the film I wanted to make.
I don’t know if the fact that I had studied film in the UK helped, maybe it did. But more importantly, I think that making a film is teamwork, and if everyone understands his/her role, has a common understanding of the film and for editing and sees the footage as it is and not as they want it to be, then there’s a good chance to make a good film. And fortunately, that’s what happened.
Alia: I enjoyed my editor Felix Black very much and felt that he understood what I was trying to say and how important it was for me to do a longer version. So we both worked very hard, with practically no breaks and eating at the editing table to finish both versions by Thursday morning as Kate Vogel from Channel 4 was coming in to see the three-minute version, which she loved.
Mohanad: I didn’t get the chance to reach London at that time, but the producer of the project Beadie Finzi fought to have the three minutes ready for the CH4 in time, so, I was editing a rough cut for the three minutes from Ramallah, and sending it to her through the Internet and discussing later, on Skype, about possible changes, the point of strength, and what is the next step. After this, I sent the rushes on a separate tape, which was re-edits and went to the online after.
Wafa Jamil did not get to finish her film “Hamas Jokes” which is also called “What’s Next”. She has done a rough cut. As she could not leave the country, she did the editing in Ramallah and communicated with the British editor through an assistant translator. She had a somewhat frustrating experience with the translator, who wanted to become the co-director of her film and change her script. She was also told by the executive producer, Beadie Finzi, that she had too many characters in her film although the script had been approved before the shooting.
Jamil is currently looking for funds from European channels for a 52-minute film, “Ramallah under Hamas”, that will focus on the political and economic changes during the Hamas era from a woman’s point of view.
DOX: “Do you think the experience with Channel 4 will have en impact on your documentary career: will it or has it already opened doors?”
Mohanad: I think so. That is what I am expecting and looking for, to be in direct contact with different networks, especially in London.
Alia: Making “The Clothesline” was important to me as it had lived inside me, and getting a piece of it out on video was important to me, as I could now see how a feature film of what happened inside my apartment and my building since the invasion of Ramallah could actually take shape, and so the piece forms an important pilot for a feature film project. We all look forward to European co-productions, as co-production with Israel is of such unequal relations and with a “restraint” on our expression of our lives. But we also look to working with producers and executives producers who respect the stage we have reached and can relate to us as professionals, and not as “discoveries” of theirs or non-professional novices.
DOX: “As a Palestinian filmmaker, what obstacles do you meet when working in your own country?”
Mohanad: The most difficult is finding funds and production money and someone who believes in your project. If they do, they usually don’t have an interest to support. If it is a news reportage it might be easier to have some production money from Arab satellite channels working in Palestine, but when it’s more artistic or personal, nobody will support. Also it is hard to get connected to European producers unless you have made yourself known, like winning a prize in a famous festival or being broadcast on TV like CH4. It sometimes seems an endless circle.
Alia: There are many obstacles. The external factors are the Israeli occupation, the difficulty of movement, the fear of movement, confiscation of equipment or videotapes, etc. The long hours at the checkpoints, the complete demoralization about mobility and freedom. The internal factors are that there is practically no independent documentary infrastructure in Palestine. There are very few editors or equipment, as everything is geared towards the international news media, so documentary technical professionals are very few. Also, as independent directors\producers, we cannot compete with the pay of the international news media, so technical crews have no incentive to work with us, either, in terms of finances or protection (armoured vehicles, bulletproof vests, etc.). We can offer very little to the technical professionals, and so the Palestinian film scene has developed – as Frantz Fanon would have put it – in a deformed underdeveloped manner, big shoulders and torso, and little weak legs to carry the torso… There are a lot of directors, but few camera people or editors.
Dima: It’s very difficult to make films in Palestine. There are very little funds to make films. There are no cinemas to show films (except a few cultural organisations in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem). The national television does not support filmmakers, neither do the Arab televisions stations. They seldom buy films made by independent filmmakers, and when they do, they don’t pay much. I believe there are many stories in Palestine waiting to be told and I wish to be able to tell as many as I can.
Alia Arasoughly: The Clothesline
Filmmaker, Sociologist of Culture (Film), & Curator
Director General of Shashat, an organisation that seeks to promote the Palestinian filmmaking community.
Dima Abu Ghoush: Rand
Writer and filmmaker
Mohanad Yaqubi: Roundabout
Wafa Jamil: Hamas Jokes, (What’s next).
3 Minute Wonder