For about a decade he has been making documentaries that have travelled all over the world. The documentaries have given Mograbi a reputation as one of today’s most promising, innovative, political filmmakers. He deliberately mixes fiction and proper documentation in a personal style exuding humour and irony that has confused many. TUE STEEN MÛLLER spoke to Avi Mograbi in Tel Aviv a few weeks after Sharon’s victory.
What is real, what is wrong? Is this a dream or a real nightmare? Hard to tell in a society like Israel’s. Five years after Mograbi made a film on Arik Sharon, the latter became Prime Minister of a country that is in constant conflict. The film was given new, surprising relevance since Mograbi has received phone calls from people who assume that he knows Sharon very well: “So your friend is now the prime minister.”
TSM: How I learned to Overcome My fear and Love Arik Sharon!, the title invites you to make such an assumption. Give us the background, please.
AM: When I went out to make this film, I thought that I was going to make a real harsh political documentary. I was obsessed with Arik Sharon. In 1983 I sat in jail for refusing to serve as a soldier in the war in Lebanon. The army did not want to get into the political and moral questions, so they just jailed me and many others for not obeying orders. I was at that time already a reserve soldier. I had taken a close look at what Sharon had been doing for years – especially the chain of settlements he set up, which for me is the biggest obstacle to peace right now, because they are built within the occupied territories and are cutting the West Bank into pieces. In 1977 the Likud party came to power. Sharon became minister of agriculture – but in reality he changed the post into minister of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. He found out how to confiscate land in these areas. The idea was of course to make sure that the land would never be returned to the Palestinians and to make their lives unbearable. He would claim that he did so in order to bring security.
But the style of the film is quite unconventional?
In the beginning I wanted to make a straightforward documentary. I thought about it for a long time, until the election in 1996 after the assassination of Rabin, when Shimon Peres ran against Netanyahu. I imagined that Sharon would immediately know who I was and where I came from. I decided to use the campaign to get close to him. I hoped that I would find the monster in him that I thought was there, but this did not happen. What you see in the beginning of the film is completely true. I made an enormous number of phone calls trying to get his approval of giving me his campaign schedule, which he refused. So what you see is a lot of documentary stuff that I have filmed with a character, myself, framing the whole thing, being left by his wife, because “he who forgets Sabra and Shatila – his wife shall leave him”. (Sabra and Shatila are the two refugee camps in Lebanon, where massacres of Palestinians took place in 1983. Sharon was officially declared to be indirectly responsible for the massacres and was forced to resign his post as minister of defence, ed.). The idea of telling this fabricated story – my wife has not left me! – combined with ‘real’ material shot in a documentary manner, evolved along the road, when the shootings of Sharon were already in progress.
How did you reach this style? It is a long way from The Reconstruction (1994) about the murder case of Danny Katz, a Jewish boy, to the film on Sharon three years later?
The Danny Katz film is a very important part of my work. It is such a strict and serious story about five Arabs who are accused of having committed a crime, which they may never have been close to. I used much energy in telling the truth and not letting the manipulation take over. It is a story about life and death, where I took many measures to avoid saying something that I was not 100% sure of. It took me some time to understand that whatever efforts I had performed, the amount of manipulation is enormous. The audience can only count on your integrity. In such a huge case, as the one about Danny Katz with thousands of papers and six hours of police reconstruction material, you put it all into a one hour film. Whatever I did, I was manipulating. So in the Sharon film, I decided to put myself into the film. It all developed. I had an idea about where I was going, which was somewhere else, so it turned out to be a totally different film. Only when I finished the documentary stuff in the film and had edited it on my computer, did I start writing the framework, the full script. I recorded it in my living room, edited it on my computer. I showed it to my wife, who is my best critic, and discussed it with her. And here I invented the idea of my wife leaving me. My wife does not appear in the film, but her voice represents the moral backbone of it all. I asked her permission to turn the story like that, and she was happy to leave me!
Was it out of frustration?
Yes, because the more I shot, the more I found out that I was his toy and that he was manipulating me with his kindness and friendliness. He was simply giving me the journalist treatment. On one side, he didn’t do any research on me, and on the other, he didn’t let me get close. I started to appear again and again, and I surprised him a couple of times. He started to recognise me and forgot about checking me. If so, they would have found that I am what is called a radical leftist in this country. He got nicer and nicer, and he did not appear as a monster. I started dreaming and I was terrified.
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