Palestinian pic could earn support of Israel Film Fund

BERLIN — Imagine a movie helmed by a Palestinian, with two Palestinian suicide bombers as protagonists, an Israeli as co-producer, and the state-run Israel Film Fund as a possible financier of its distribution in Israel.

That movie is Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now.” Shot in Cinemascope amid Israeli-Palestinian crossfire in the West Bank, “Paradise” — the title refers to the purported reward for suicide bombers — emerged as a hot pic at the Berlinale competition. The pic could also come to symbolize an improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Following the film’s Berlin preem, Israel Film Fund topper Katriel Schory stated he would be willing to provide P&A support for “Paradise,” “if it finds a distributor in Israel.”

Given that the pic is sympathetic to its protagonists — though it does not condone terrorism — that is a big “if.”

Yet Tel Aviv-based co-producer Amir Harel is pretty confident. “The fight is not over yet. But I think we’ll get it shown. It might be a small distribution — we may even have to distribute it ourselves — but it will be out there,” he told Variety.

Harel, who is an old friend of Assad’s, had in 2002 submitted “Paradise Now” for production financing to the Israel Film Fund, which at the time rejected it on political grounds.

Harel considers the fact that the fund now seems to have changed its policy, symptomatic of the current change in the region’s political climate which is experiencing transformation under new Palestinian leadership, following Yasser Arafat’s death.

“We are trying to tell a story that is very meaningful to both Israelis and Palestinians, but you have to be a bit more relaxed, and not feel that you are in the frontline of fire,” Harel says.

“Now Israel can be more open-minded now, they can be more tolerant,” he adds. Co-written by Assad and the pic’s other co-producer, Bero Beyer — who heads Amsterdam-based Augustus Film — the $2.2 million “Paradise” was developed in part at the Sundance Scriptwriters Lab, and partly financed by pre-sales to Indie Circle, the pan-European distribution consortium comprising France’s Haut et Court and Italy’s Lucky Red.

“I have high expectations for this film in Italy,” says Lucky Red’s Andrea Occhipinti. “Press out of Berlin has been great, there really has been a strong reaction.”

U.S. distributors have also been circling the pic. “Paradise” depicts a two-day period in the lives of two young Palestinian men whose lives go from smoking a water pipe and joking around on a hillside overlooking an occupied town, to being recruited to carry out a suicide bombing together in Tel Aviv.

“I believe that behind every suicide bomber there is a human story,” Assad says. “My personal philosophy is that if you can manage to refuse to accept your role as victim, then you will also stop wanting to victimize.”

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