Palestine lensing a risky business

Abu-Asad, crew dodge bullets for 'Paradise'

LONDON — Making a film is never easy at the best of times but making one during a military occupation is nearly impossible. That’s what Palestinian director Hany Abu-Asad faced when making “Paradise Now,” the first film shot entirely on location in the West Bank during the current Intifada.

Taking guerrilla filmmaking to a whole new level, Abu-Asad and crew faced constant peril from Israeli soldiers, Palestinian militants as well as the daily difficulties of trying to bypass checkpoints, roadblocks and frequent near misses from rocket attacks on both sides.

“We shot in Nablus under the Israeli siege with a crew of 80 people and 35mm cameras. To shoot in such a place under siege is almost impossible,” the director told Variety. “But we made it possible because we were all almost ready to sacrifice our own lives to make this film.”

Popular on Variety

In one incident Israeli soldiers took up position directly by the house that the crew were prepping for a scene. They found themselves caught in the gun battle between the soldiers and Palestinian militants.

“We were lying on the floor for two hours,” Abu-Asad recalls, laughing. “The funny thing was that when it finished we just continued filming.”

Toll of shooting became too much to bear for some of the multinational crew, which included Germans, Italians and Dutch. Midway through the shoot, six German technicians left.

“They couldn’t take the pressure anymore, but I have so much respect for them and the foreign crew that stayed,” says Abu-Asad.

Currently finishing post-production in Holland, home to the film’s producer Augustus Film, pic follows a day in the life of two Palestinian childhood friends, one of whom decides to become a suicide bomber.

Abu-Asad is all too aware of potential difficulties over pic’s emotional subject.

“Of course we realize it is a sensitive topic,” he says. “I understand these actions but am personally against them. The only way to fight these kind of actions is to understand their motives. By humanizing them and giving them their dignity back, you create other options for Palestinians,” the director explains. “This is the political conviction of the script. But the script isn’t just political. It is also about friendship, the banality of life, love and sacrifice.”

The modestly budgeted feature, at 2.2 million euros ($3 million), found investors from unlikely sources, including Israel and Japan.

Abu-Asad, who co-wrote the script with Bero Beyer, developed the project with support from the Sundance Scriptwriters Lab, where he received advice from Christopher McQuarrie and Jim Taylor.

After taking part in the lab, he was also invited to take part in the Directors Lab, where he worked with Ed Harris and Antonia Bird.

The director hopes to publish a book about the making of the film, possibly with New Press in New York.

Abu-Asad also hopes to preem film at Cannes, although is quick to add, “It’s not my decision but I hope the committee in Cannes see it and like it. It’s a good festival.”

Looking back on the experience, he sums up, “Sometimes I think we went too far and were a little too crazy to enter into this experience but I’m very happy with the film.”