ABU DHABI — While the recent furor over the non-inclusion of Israeli pic “The Band’s Visit” at both the Cairo Film Fest and Abu Dhabi’s Middle East Film fest brought the issue of the Arab world’s cultural relationship with Israel to the forefront again, an Egyptian helmer has taken the bold step of defying the naysayers to lense in Israel.
Nadia Kamel showed her doc “Salata baladi,” to Arab auds for the first time at Abu Dhabi’s Middle East Film Fest (Oct. 14-19).
The film traces the 46-year-old family’s complicated ethnic make-up, which includes a Jewish grandfather, Italian Catholic grandmother, as well as other sprinklings of Turkish, Russian and Lebanese blood.
Kamel teamed up with her mother, Maria, in an attempt to re-unite the various branches of the family tree, including her Jewish relatives in Israel who had been estranged from the Egyptian branch of the clan for 55 years. “The most difficult thing was the decision to actually go to Israel,” says Kamel. “I decided that these people should not die without seeing each other.”
Filming on digital and foregoing the complications of seeking permission from either Egyptian or Israeli authorities, Kamel went ahead and filmed the reunion, albeit minus her sister and nephew who were unable to travel at the last moment.
The film received its world preem at the Locarno fest. It is only now, however, that “Salata Baladi,” the Arabic for house salad, is being seen by Arab auds.
While its screening in Abu Dhabi received a fairly warm reaction, it is the preem in her native Egypt, where the issue of “normalization” with Israel is particularly sensitive, that will be the real barometer of public opinion.
While Egypt and Israel officially signed a peace treaty with the 1979 Camp David Accords, relations between the countries’ two artistic communities have remained strained, with a number of Egyptian intellectuals calling for a boycott of their Israeli counterparts until the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Egyptian thesp Amr Waked faced calls for a ban earlier this year from the Egyptian Actor’s Union after it was discovered he was starring in “Between The Two Rivers,” a BBC biopic of Saddam Hussein, alongside Israeli actor Yigar Naor.
“Part of my project was to put some complexity into the discussion about normalization and boycott,” says Kamel. “I am actually in favor of the boycott but a lot of people simply say no as a way not to think about it. For me normalization is seeing an injustice and turning a blind eye. Maybe by me going to Israel we will be able to discuss this matter properly.”
Pic preems Oct. 23 at the Goethe Institute in Cairo and will also screen at the Cairo Independent Film Festival, which runs alongside the Cairo film fest. Kamel is braced for the backlash.
“I am ready for the lynching,” says Kamel. “I wish that it doesn’t happen but I am ready. I have to show this film to my family in Israel my friends in Palestine but I’m not sure how to do it.”