Mideast conflict inspires projects

'1948,' 'Promised Land' in development

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a rich source of material for filmmakers even if the precarious political situation occasionally puts some of them in the front line.

Several projects dealing with the subject matter are being developed by Western filmmakers.

“Endgame” producer Hal Vogel is developing “1948,” a miniseries about the partition of Palestine and subsequent founding of the state of Israel.

“The Queen” producer Andy Harries is developing a Gaza-based feature starring Helen Mirren as a Jewish woman whose journo daughter is murdered while covering events in the Gaza Strip.

Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom is developing “Promised Land,” a Graham Greene-esque story which takes place in Palestine at the end of World War II. The film will be produced by Winterbottom’s partner Andrew Eaton through their shingle Revolution Films.

Julian Schnabel is in production on “Miral,” starring Hiam Abbas and Freida Pinto, for Pathe. Pic is about the real-life Palestinian nurse Hind Husseini, who created the Dar Al-Tifi orphanage in Jerusalem in 1948. Story will span several decades.

And while each of those individual projects promises to offer outside perspectives on the interminable conflict, filmmakers from the region are finding their own cinematic voices threatened by internal disputes.

Palestinian helmer Najwa Najjar preemed her directorial debut “Pomegranates and Myrrh” in the West Bank city of Ramallah in March only to find her film, and herself, banned from Gaza by Hamas officials.

Najjar’s pic follows a budding, forbidden romance between a Palestinian newlywed, whose husband is in prison, and her dance teacher. Najjar was accused by a vocal minority of besmirching the reputation of both Palestinian prisoners — revered in local circles for their sacrifice for Palestinian statehood — and their wives.

Pic’s bow sparked a public debate between Palestinian liberals and conservatives about the role of filmmaking, and culture in general, when dealing with life under occupation. Despite the launch of a hate campaign against Najjar — whose Facebook homepage was peppered with abusive messages — the voices in favor of free speech appear to have won out.

“I received a phone call from one woman in Gaza who is determined to screen the film in Gaza this November,” Najjar told Variety. “There are a lot of people who won’t accept this kind of cultural oppression. We have always been an open-minded society but recently there has been a rise in fundamentalism and conservatism.”

Some helmers, however, are finding the film is the perfect platform to get along.

Israeli director Yaron Shani and Palestinian director Scandar Copti teamed up to make “Ajami,” a gritty drama about gangs in the multi-cultural city of Jaffa. Pic is screening in Critics’ Week at Cannes.

“The political background is not interesting for us,” said Shani. “Everything we have to say is in the film.”

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