Lebanese director plots comeback

Projects could put Ziad Doueiri back in spotlight

LONDON- When it comes to heralding new Middle East film talent, the example of Lebanese helmer Ziad Doueiri is a timely reminder of how tough the film biz can be.

His 1998 feature debut, “West Beirut,” was the breakout pic of its day and established Doueiri virtually overnight as the Arab world’s most exciting talent.

A decade and only one feature later- 2002’s “Lila Says”- Doueiri has been quietly toiling away on a number of follow-up projects.

He has been working with Focus Features on adapting Yasmina Khadra’s acclaimed novel “The Attack,” about an affluent Palestinian doctor who discovers his wife is a suicide bomber.

Doueiri has also written a separate project, “The Man in the Middle,” about American foreign policy in the Middle East.

That script, which the helmer originally wrote pre-9/11- has become a something of an urban legend in Arab film circles. Its controversial subject matter- it is based on the real-life secret negotiations U.S. diplomats held between Palestinian and Israeli officials- has scared off most investors in the region. Script is currently being shopped around Hollywood, where it has attracted interest from a number of top thesps.

“The difficulty lies in the fact that, as of yet, there isn’t really film financing in the Arab world or visionary producers like David Puttnam to push the question of censorship,” says Doueiri. “Are people here willing to write about sensitive subjects? Can you display sexuality onscreen, homosexuality, drugs? You can only write what will end up as a soap opera with bigger budgets.”

Doueiri’s reluctance to compromise his artistic vision may have led to a less-prolific than his many admirers would have liked, but that hasn’t stopped the tenacious helmer from working on other projects.

He has written another feature for which he is confident he’ll be able to get financing.

“It’s a totally sexual story,” he quips dryly. “I decided to write something which had nothing to do with the Middle East because I can’t keep struggling my whole life. We’ll be able to produce this one very easily.”

With reports that “The Attack” may be nearing production in the not-too-distant future as well, one of the Middle East’s most exciting talents may find himself back in the spotlight again.