Suha Arraf’s “Villa Touma,” which screens in Venice Critics’ Week, has arrived in Italy carrying the baggage of a major Israeli controversy.
The film, a melodrama set in Ramallah during the early days of the Israeli occupation, was made primarily with Israeli public funds, including $400,000 from the Israel Film Fund.
But Arraf, an Arab citizen of Israel, has registered “Villa” as a Palestinian movie, infuriating the Israeli minister of culture and prompting the Israel Film Fund to demand its money back.
The brouhaha has led to a series of manifestos, with various local artists, both Israeli and Palestinian, rallying behind Arraf and her decision.
As for Arraf herself, the first-time helmer and screenwriter of “Lemon Tree” and “The Syrian Bride” has written a piece in the Israeli daily Haaretz defending her stance.
“I am an Arab, a Palestinian and a citizen of the state of Israel. I have the right to emphasize my nationality as I present my film to the world, and there is no law in the state of Israel that forbids me from doing so,” Arraf wrote. “As far as I am concerned, a film’s identity is that of its creator.”
Roughly 20% of Israel’s 8 million citizens are Arabs and consider themselves Palestinian.
Hany Abu-Assad, the Nazareth-born Arab director, also found himself in hot water when he petitioned to have his Oscar-nominated “Paradise Now” listed as a film from Palestine at the 2006 Academy Awards.
“Paradise Now” was also made with coin from the Israel Film Fund, and in the end was listed as a product not of Palestine but of the Palestinian Authority.
With his sophomore effort “Omar,” Abu-Assad took no chances, and refused all Israeli funds. That film also received an Oscar nod and was classified at the kudocast as a film from Palestine, the first ever.