Writer-director Eran Kolirin chats up Israeli film

Disappointment was the initial reaction from “The Band’s Visit” writer-director Eran Kolirin when he found out his critically acclaimed fable about an Egyptian band that gets lost in Israel had been disqualified from Oscar contention because more than 50% of the dialogue is in English.

“I don’t think that someone honestly can watch this film and not see that it’s an Israeli film or it’s a foreign-language film,” said Kolirin at the Q&A session following Thursday’s Variety screening at the Arclight of the 34-year-old Israeli’s feature directorial debut. “I don’t think this is an American film, but sometimes regulations, they become very big.”

For an understated movie that meticulously avoids any political discussion, “The Band’s Visit” has had a tough time of late avoiding controversy. The Cannes winner was disinvited from Abu Dhabi’s inaugural Middle East International Film Festival and rejected from the Cairo International Film Festival. Ironically, the Sony Pictures Classic film that pays homage to Egyptian cinema was not shown at these two events because of political opposition from Egypt’s filmmaking community, the majority of which is against any kind of “normalization” with Israel.

The rejections came as no surprise to Kolirin.

“I come from a region where a lot is going on, so it’s too big. I make a movie, and everyone has some agenda,” Kolirin said. “Once a movie or anything becomes big enough for people to talk about, the politics come in right away. It’s like a mirror for everyone to define his own political views and political agenda, and suddenly it’s a tool for certain people or politicians to express their own personal view, but it has no real connection to the film.”

Kolirin acknowledged the pressure put on him by producers and financiers to make a more direct political statement in the film, saying he even went so far as adding more politics to the script a couple months before shooting began. However, after reading the new script, he said it didn’t feel right and so he went back to the original version, which was more abstract and contained more of what he calls an “emotional dialogue” lacking from the current public discourse about the peace process.

“I was addressing for me a more emotional dialogue and not the news dialogue that’s happening. Not the dialogue that concerns territories or questions of authority,” explained Kolirin. “I think there’s an essential thing: It’s human connection between people, what people give to each other, the importance of unimportance, of small things that you cannot overlook.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more