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<nettime> interview submission, thanks!
Rosanne Altstatt on Wed, 14 May 2003 15:55:46 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> interview submission, thanks!

Rosanne Altstatt In Conversation with Avi Mograbi

This interview with the Israeli filmmaker, artist and activist Avi Mograbi
was conducted for a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Edith Russ
Site for Media Art in Oldenburg, Germany. It will be published by Revolver –
Verlag für aktuelle Kunst in the reader “Avi Mograbi: (fictional) Documentary”
for our opening night festival of Mograbi’s films on 16 May, 2003.

Rosanne Altstatt: First, it would be helpful if you would tell me a little
about your background as an artist and filmmaker. 

Avi Mograbi: I was born into a cinema family. My father owned one of the
largest cinemas in the center of Tel Aviv, The Mograbi Cinema. When it opened in
1930 it was the third cinema in Tel Aviv, the first with talking pictures
and it was a landmark (also for its architecture) in this city until it was
lost in a fire more than 15 years ago. So this is where I caught the malady. As
a child I saw an unbelievable number of films, a lot of them with my father
in private screening rooms where he would spend days watching one film after
the other looking for the next blockbuster.
In my teens I was sure I was going to become a film director and dreamt of
studying cinema, but when I had to make up my mind I went to study philosophy
at the university and art in an art school. I was quite successful in my art
studies and thought I would become an artist. So the first thing I did after
finishing school was rent a studio, and once I did that I stopped making art.
I was making a living by working as a production aid in films, later I
became a production manager and assistant director (this is how I still make a
living) and in 1989 I made my first film, “Deportation”.

RA: I would say you’ve come back full circle to making art, but we can
pursue that later. Would you also consider yourself a political activist? After
all, you published the article “Isolate Ariel Sharon Now” in the newspapers and
called for Sharon’s democratic removal from power.

AM: I am an activist, but a low profile one. I am a peon in the Israeli
protest movement. In the 1980's I was very active in the “Yesh Gvul” refusists
movement. I was one of the founding members and spokesman for the movement for
over a year and was imprisoned by the military for refusing to serve in the
Lebanon War. For the past year or so I have participated in Ta'ayush
activities. Ta'ayush is an Arab-Jewish organization dedicated to creating a dialogue
and joint, non-violent actions by Israelis and Palestinians, and to
humanitarian support in the occupied territories as well as within Israel. We made it a
habit to spend our Saturdays stuck in some stupid road block on the verge of
the occupied territories, confronting the police and the military who
usually declare the area a “closed military zone” just in order to forbid us
bi-national peace activists, who really believe in dialogue, to get to the other
side where another group of peace activists is waiting to meet us. 

Over the past 16 months I have co-programmed a series of monthly screenings
of Palestinian films at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque with the film producer
Osnat Trabelsi. It started when we organized a screening of Palestinian filmmaker
Rashid Masharawi's “This is the Voice of Palestine” in November 2001 in
protest of the Israeli military bombing the antenna of the “Voice of Palestine”
radio station in Ramalla. A few weeks later the station was totally destroyed.
We see this series as a Trojan horse placed at the heart of Israeli society
where very few people care to know who is on the other side, what they think
and aspire to, and what might happen to them. The Israeli public only gets to
see Palestinians these days on news programs that have become a public
address system for the government's voice. We wish to present the public with an
alternative view of Palestinians – their own view of themselves. Our series is
not a successful one. We have crowds that range from fifty to three hundred,
but it does exist and we hope it will grow. Does this make me a political

RA: I don’t know if there is an official definition of a political activist,
but if there is one I expect it would be constantly evolving. There are,
after all, different ways of being active. Integrating your private life (at
least on camera) and work life (behind the camera) is one possibility. I see
many artists who make political causes the subject of their work and they get
directly involved at street level. Your work is the most direct example. 

Even your first film, “Deportation”, was a kind of protest, though it
actually looks less like its title would imply and more like an exchange of spies
on a bridge in a Cold War movie.

AM: Well, yes, I have taken a lot of effort to make the deportation scene
that is portrayed in the film remote from what it really looks like. During the
first Intifada there were lots of deportations done by the military – of
Palestinian political leaders the state realized would not be convicted in court
for their activity. So instead of locking them up they were thrown out of
the country. Whenever such a scene was in the TV news it seemed very brutal.
People were thrown out of vehicles, heads covered with sacks, aggressively led
by soldiers and practically thrown to the other side of the border where an
extremely loud party of supporters would wait for them with banners and

My feeling was that the people around me were reserved concerning this act
mainly because of its brutality. I decided to present it in a totally
different manner from how it really was in order to suppress the hypocritical
reaction to it and try to raise a moral discussion concerning the act, which had
been lost and forgotten in the process. I kind of like the way the two guys on
top of the dam (who are supposedly UN officials) give the event a Cold War
atmosphere, how they look alike and also look like gangsters. I was happy with
the decision that the party that is supposedly neutral in the scene looks the

RA: As I mentioned earlier, I do think you never really left art. Your video
installation “Relief” (1999), which we are exhibiting in the upper hall of
our exhibition space, does not exactly fit in a cinema. It is less film than a
work for an exhibition space. There are many reasons why this is a
fascinating image. First, it is a slow-motion moment of a front-line clash between a
Palestinian crowd and a line-up of Israeli police, complete with crowd-control
shields and helmets. The fact that this scene is common all over the world
today for a number of political movements makes it an essential image of the
times we live in. Second, it is a mass of people, but if you look closely and
pick out the individuals, you see that a good number of the protesters may
actually be journalists since they are holding cameras – or they are protesters
with cameras. They probably have multiple roles since much of the material
we see in news reports today is acquired not from professional camera people,
but from eye-witnesses.

AM: I guess some of the people holding cameras in this demonstration were
also demonstrators. One of our duties today is to record the behavior of the
military and the police during demonstrations we take part in. We do this
because the press has deserted us and is no longer interested in human rights
violations in the occupied territories. So when we go on a Ta'ayush activity,
which may be a demonstration or a meeting with activists of the Palestinian side
or a humanitarian activity, there are always a few cameras handy. The
authorities try to stop us from achieving our most innocent goals, and so time and
again we record them doing so.

But the demonstration in “Relief” was not a regular one. It was shot in East
Jerusalem on Nakba Day 1998 (anniversary of the 50th year of the Palestinian
catastrophe). The Palestinians gathered in one of the streets not far from
the center of East Jerusalem planning to stand still for two minutes at noon,
in memory of their loss, along with many other Palestinians all over the
occupied territories and in Israel too, just like we (the Jewish Israelis) do on
our Memorial Day. The police were also there to prevent this act of memorial
and solidarity. What you see in the video is the calm part of the event. It
later deteriorated to horseback policemen storming into the crowd and to stone
throwing vs. shooting rubber bullets (rubber coated steel bullets that can
and have killed), etc. I was there shooting for “Happy Birthday Mr. Mograbi”,
and the scene stuck in my mind for months until I picked up the tape and
watched it again. I had to slow it down to be able to look at it. Its normal
speed is impossible to watch without getting sea sick. Later, I realized that
when moving the shot in reverse it does not look like it is going backwards
because nobody was advancing anywhere. It was like a wheat field in the wind:
there is a lot of commotion but the wheat has its feet stuck in the ground. This
is how the idea to put the shot in a loop developed, to this situation of an
endless clash and a no-win situation for any of the sides.

RA: “How I Learned to Overcome my Fear and Love Arik Sharon” (1997), “Happy
Birthday Mr. Mograbi” (1999) and “August” (2002) are in a documentary style,
biographical and fictional – all rolled into one. Yet the film that preceeded
those three, “The Reconstruction”, was made in a strict reasearch/objective
documentary manner. What made you abandon objectivity and go for completely
subjective viewpoints? 

AM: I think it all started in a very intuitive way. There was a certain
moment during the making of “Sharon” that I felt that the “objective” scenes I
shot could not express on their own what went on in my mind. As it was unlikely
that reality would voluntarily “tell” the story the way I saw it, I felt I
had to do it myself. It took me some time to realize that this is how it's
done all the time by everybody, that this is also how “The Reconstruction” was
made, that this is the true meaning of making a film (fiction or non-fiction)
or of telling a story. Not everyboby is happy to acknowledge this process or
its outcome, but objective as a film may seem (and “The Reconstruction” does
pretend to be objective, yet the story told in it could be depicted
differently and create a different meaning) it is always an end product of an intense
destructive and reconstructive process that goes on in the filmmaker's mind.
A documentary is never really a capture of reality but rather an expression
of what its filmmaker thinks reality may be.

Later, much later, I realized another thing about my incentive. The way I
encounter it, reality is never there in itself, it is always represented by
someone in the way he see fit (and I am not talking necessarily about
documentaries). There are a lot of forces out there that interpret reality for us all
the time, and thus the meaning of reality has become a tool in their hands to
promote their agenda. I find myself often confronting those interpretations
with frustration, feeling that reality should be represented differently in a
way that would do more justice to this slippery and evasive concept. Making
films has allowed me to contribute to that. For ninety minutes or so I take
the stand and give whoever is willing to pay attention my own account of the
world, for that period of time what the audience may experience is my ’real’. I
hope that is not understood as a wish to distort what reality really is, not
at all, I take a lot of caution in trying not to meddle with the history of
the world. What I try to do is give my account of it.

RA: In “August” you play all the three major roles in the film yourself.
Where does this put your role as a filmmaker? 

AM: I think the first and foremost thing I expect my audience to do, is to
distinguish the characters in the films and what they are reporting for the
person who is making the film. Documentaries' heroes may lie, yet this does not
necessarily mean that the film is not delivering a piece of truth or that
the filmmaker is a fraud. It is true that in my case it might be a little bit
difficult because I play the main character in some of my films. Yet, like any
other character in any other film, documentary or not, my character has his
reasons to tell what he is telling. Like many characters who are not
necessarily the directors of the documentaries they appear in, the truth value of
what my character is reporting of his own history may be dubious. The question
in my mind is not whether my character is telling the truth, but whether the
person who is making the film is telling the truth, i.e. giving his own honest
account of reality. When a filmmaker chooses to edit a shot of rain dripping
outside the window into a death sequence in his documentary (which has
already become a cliché for great sorrow, a metaphor that makes nature take part
in human feelings, and indeed an improbable behavior of nature the way I know
it) he indulges with a fictionalization of “the truth”. But, yet, this
filmmaker can’t help it. This is the way that he delivers reality, this is his way
to tell us how great a sorrow this death is: even the sky weeps with the dead
child’s parents. We as spectators might feel uncomfortable with this cliché,
we might think it is kitsch, outdated, overdone, but I doubt we would ever
find ourselves discussing the matter and condemning this documentarist for not
telling the truth, or for distorting reality. Because this is a convention
of storytelling, even of documentary storytelling. And indeed this
cliché-infected filmmaker may be telling the truth and nothing but, with his weeping sky
metaphor, because this is the way he perceives it. As to me, by placing the
false stories in the mouth of my character I hope to create a certain
metaphor as to the way reality should be perceived, which would give my audience a
chance to encounter a greater truth the way I see it. 

I guess it is trivial to say today that there is no truth nor reality
without somebody to capture or perceive it. When we see a film (fiction or
non-fiction) or read a book, a newspaper or historical research on a subject that we
are not experts of and have no immediate means to determine whether the story
depicted is coherent with “reality”, we end up judging the truth values of
those pieces by the apparent integrity of the reporter. To some, this
integrity factor might be determined by the fact that a main character in a film
tells untrue stories about himself and his family. But they should also be
prepared for the possibility that the dripping rain in a death sequence would
inflict on the integrity of the other filmmaker because these are twin-instances
of the very same technique of storytelling. One instance, though, rides home
over the audience’s inattentiveness, yet the other exposes itself to

RA: You once told me that there is another question to be dealt with, a
question of the subject of the story told and to what extent an untrue story told
within the frame of the “big” story could affect the big picture. 

AM: Yes, for example, whether I truly fell in love with Mr. Sharon in my
film or not has nothing to do with the “fact” that Mr. Sharon is not evaluated
in Israel for his deeds and for his ideology. And this is what my film is
about. It is not about what did or did not happen in one household in Tel Aviv,
but rather about what happens in the minds of Israelis when they encounter the
political persona of Mr. Sharon. And, alas, as my film has tried to depict,
in present day Israel Mr. Sharon is not evaluated for his ethics but rather
for something else. So the fictitious story I told about myself in the film
has turned out to be the non-fictitious story of the state of Israel in the
elections of 2001 and even more so in the elections of 2003. In that sense, the
film I made five years before Mr. Sharon’s rise to power unintentionally
became a futuristic documentary.

I would not want to create the impression that I have no feelings for truth
or for truth-telling. I definitely fear the possibility that some might use
the liberty I have taken to mix fiction with nonfiction and create a distorted
picture of the world, of the world’s history and of human values. This has
been extensively done in the past, and probably still is, by propaganda of
many sorts and origins. I guess we have to put our “integrity sensors” on alert
and try to weed out those who mislead us in their interpretation of reality.
We might fail to pinpoint some frauds, but I am afraid we have no other tool
but this one.

RA: There has recently been a number of artists – especially Eastern
European artists, who tie their personal biographies into a documentary-style piece.
By going completely subjective and investigating questions that aren’t
possible with the purely factual documentary some uncomfortable questions on the
relationship between the personal and the political come to the surface. There
is hardly anything more personal and political as an Israeli’s views on the
Israel/Palestine conflict. In “Happy Birthday” you even tied the birth of
Israel to your own birth. 

AM: In our society it is very easy to note how the public life imposes on
the private. Wherever you go, whatever you do is strongly influenced by what we
call “the situation”. You can't seem to get away from that. Some people
choose an escapist outlet from all this and choose not to be involved in the
political aspects of life until life imposes the involvement upon them.

As a politically committed person I see a strong relationship or
correspondence between the public life and the private life, between the morals of the
community and the morals of the individual. For instance, and this is a
discussion I find myself in with many friends who are supposedly also committed to
humane ideas, I believe that if you think that occupation should be ended and
that the settlements in the occupied territories are a disaster to our
society (actually they are war crimes), then you must do something about it in
your own private life, even if the political effect of it is minimal. One such
action is refraining from buying products that are manufactured (by Israelis)
in the occupied territories. When I buy something I try to figure out where
it is being made, and avoid buying products made by settlers, just like I did
in the days of Apartheid with products made in South Africa. Many of my
friends, human rights supporters in their own view, think that this is much too
excessive. I don’t. I believe in living by your ideals and morals.

Some 16 years ago I made a decision to stop going to the occupied
territories. This decision has cost me a lot of money (I had to refuse a lot of jobs
that had to do with filming in the occupied territories) and made me a name as
a troublemaker, of someone who has too many reservations concerning simple
everyday acts. It wasn’t until only about seven years ago that I started going
to the occupied territories again, but only when the incentive to go there
had something to do with the aim of ending occupation (and I consider
developing my relationship with Palestinian friends as serving this goal). 

When I put on my filmmaker’s suit I find mixing the private and the public
very natural, and when I understood while making the Sharon film that I had to
be in the film in order to tell the story that haunted me, I took it upon
myself without complications. And when later some people thought that my
marriage was wrecked by making the film (because thisis portrayed in the film) I
took it lightly and made it into a starting point for a political discussion.

RA: Quite a few artists make documentaries that are very much in the
journalistic tradition, and present them in an art context. Many of these works are
on current topics such as genetic engineering or globalization, for example.
What’s interesting is how the practice of art and activism from the 1960s and
1970s is being applied today – with mixed results. A lack of a journalistic
background and knowledge of the history of documentary film makes artists‘
documentary works questionable. Was this a problem with your journalistic video
“The Reconstruction” (1999), in which you reconstruct the murder of a young
Jewish-Israeli boy and the possible coercion of confessions from five
convicted Palestinians? Has your work in ’fictional documentary’ caused a loss of
credibility in your journalistic work?

AM: When I made “The Reconstruction” I did not see myself as an artist
taking a journalistic task. Actually, I was not sure at the time that I was an
artist at all. I was not a journalist either, “The Reconstruction” is my only
journalistic effort if this is indeed what it is. I read an article written by
an old friend of mine, Avigdor Feldman, who was the attorney of the five that
were convicted of the murder of Danny Katz and was taken by it immediately.
I called him up and asked to see the reconstruction tapes of the murder that
were discussed in depth in the article. Watching the six hour tapes that were
mostly in Arabic and using a Hebrew transcript took me a long time as it was
hard to follow in detail without subtitles. I then started borrowing
portfolios from my friend's office containing the testimonies and interrogations
that made the police's case. A few months later I was an expert in the case and
had learned everything that could be learned about it. When I decided to make
the film I was not thinking of it as a journalist nor an artist, I was a
truth seeker. I could not stop thinking of the case, I was obsessed by it, by
the story and by its consequences. This is a case of great complexity and is
very difficult to unfold and I felt I had to find a way to tell the story that
was lying there within the thousands of pages that constituted it. 

Since it was a case of life and death – on one hand there was a dead youth
and on the other five convicts that may have been in jail for a crime they did
not commit – I had to take extreme precautions in depicting the story as to
not make any mistakes that might harm the possibility of exposing the truth.
I chose to tell the story in a dry research oriented manner hoping to create
a strong feeling of credibility with the audience. I wanted the audience to
have doubts concerning the truth value that lies in the case and not as to the
credibility of the one presenting it. But wasn't this just another way to
fool the audience to believe that what they see is a depiction of truth?
Wouldn't it have been more truthful to tell the story in a less dry manner and
allow the audience to draw the ambiguity of the case from the way it was told?
Was I making an artistic decision when I decided what style of storytelling to
use in depicting the case? Was it a journalistic decision? I am not sure it
was any of those. I felt I had to tell the truth and at that certain moment
this was the way I thought it should be done. Today I would probably have done
it differently, not that I have reservations as to what I have done, but I am
a different person now and I know more about the evasive nature of truth.
But it was truth that I was looking for and it is truth that is so hard to

RA: The video “How I Learned to Overcome my Fear and Love Arik Sharon” shows
you pursuing Ariel Sharon for an interview and becoming seduced by his
politics in the process. This was made when the chance of Sharon coming to power
in Israel seemed remote. Your video provided a convincing scenario for how a
politician can seduce a nation. 

AM: I went out to make a film about Mr. Sharon after years of following his
political career. The one specific event that put me in a “personal
relationship” with Mr. Sharon was the Lebanon War. I was 26 when it was initiated by
Mr. Sharon, reaching the end of my philosophy studies in the Tel Aviv
University (never finished my degree) and of my studies at the Ramat Hasharon art
school. I was moderately active in anti-occupation organizations and the war
caught me and my friends just as we were going to start a new initiative of
refusal to serve as reserve soldiers in the occupied territories. The angle of
this initiative changed when the war started and was re-directed at a refusal
to serve in the Lebanon War. It took a year until the military mobilized me (I
was a reserve soldier) and wanted to send me to Lebanon. I refused to serve
in Lebanon and was sentenced to 35 days in military jail (which was actually
a fun period and not terrible as one would expect). 

This is where it started. But maybe it started earlier. Mr. Sharon is
probably the one person one can, without hesitation, hold responsible for the vast
chain of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. These settlements
were positioned at strategic points in the occupied territories so as to
prevent any possible future agreement between Israel and Palestine, as well as to
make the lives of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories (a.k.a.
today as The Palestinian Authority) unbearable. And the present history shows
how clever (from a right wing point of view) he was when he became Minister
of Agriculture in 1977, pouring money into the development of settlements and
into confiscating lands in the occupied territories.

So when I set out to make a film about Sharon in 1996, I felt I was going to
make a film about a personality that has changed the fate of the Middle
East, someone that I thought (and still do) was a war criminal, someone whom the
Israeli public perceived in an awfully wrong way (instead of putting him on
trial for the horrible things he has done while he was minister in almost
every government that followed the Lebanon War). Yet, when I was going to make a
film about him, he seemed to be at a low point of his political career and it
looked as if the 1996 campaign would be his last. 

I did not really know what I was going to do. I wanted to make a harsh
political documentary about this man I was extremely interested in – not to say
obsessed with. I decided to follow him in the election campaign, hoping that
the monster that lives inside his body would reveal itself. In order not to
scare him off I made a strategic decision not to reveal to him what my political
beliefs are and what my aim in making the film is. I made another decision –
to get as close to him as possible so as to be there whenever the monster
would peek out. These two decisions must have determined the fate of my film.
In hiding my true aim I was forced to play the part of somebody who is not
really me, and getting as close as possible to him made me play the part even
harder. I thought at the time that this was like parts that investigative
journalists play when they try to get into the ranks of illegitimate organizations
and that this will help me in getting materials that would serve my harsh
political documentary plan. But it turned out differently and I certainly could
not foresee that when I started. 

Once I started pre-production I understood that, oddly enough (for a
politician), Mr. Sharon was not interested in being documented. So I thought I would
at least make a “Roger and Me” (Michael Moore) kind of film and I started
taping my telephone conversations with his staff. 
Later I started appearing in rallies he made speeches in, and after a while
he spotted me and some kind of a politician-journalist relationship started.
Usually the journalists keep those backstage relationships out of the public
eye. It took some time for me to understand that this was what would make my
film. The Sharon monster never showed up. In all the election rallies he was
mild (almost boring), but I kept following him, adding one little
conversation with him to another. 

All this time I was dreaming excessively. I certainly remember dreaming of
Sharon, dreaming of my father (who was a right-wing follower, was a great
supporter of the Lebanon war and of occupation, an admirer of Mr. Sharon and who
died just a few months after I got out of jail) – I had fearful nights. 

It took some time for me to understand that I was not making the film I
thought I would and that the monster was not coming out. On the contrary, whereas
from afar I thought that Sharon’s personality would resemble my (moral and
political) image of him, from close up he appeared to be quite a nice person,
likeable, sometimes funny, and extremely polite. And all my just fears of him
had no basis in my relatively close encounter with him. This is when the
true making of the film started. It took me some time to understand that the
actual story of the film I was making was this encounter with a monster/war
criminal/notorious politician who changed the world (my world, at least, but also
many others worlds), and the discovery that the personality I was being
exposed to was in no way how I expected it to be.

A couple of weeks before election day I made the most crucial decision
concerning that film and this was to auto-portray in the film a character that is
very much like who I am, only when he is confronted by the likeable
personality of Mr. Sharon he is taken by it and loses his moral and political
integrity. Funnily, what I fictionalized seven years ago concerning myself is the
’documentary’ story of what happened to a whole nation two years ago.

Once I understood that, I started to construct scenes that would make this
story complete, in the sense that it can be spotted by the camera and not just
reported. This is how I came up with the scene where Mr. Sharon is speaking
to an audience in the foreground and I am sitting in the background recording
him and I start (presumably not aware that I am being shot) to nod in
approval to what he says. I knew exactly what I wanted: I needed to have him and me
in the same shot, I needed to have him recite his cliché lines and I needed
me to make a positive gesture to what he says. I thought that the mixture of
a documentary shot with a fictional content is most powerful to make the
fictional story believable. When I arrived at the rally I told the cameraman what
I was looking for, positioned him and myself in a way that would put me and
Mr. Sharon in the same shot and the rest was done as Mr. Sharon took the
stand. What makes the shot for me is when in the middle of the crucial moment he
turns his head to me and smiles. I smile back to him. This was, of course,
not planned but it was rooted in the relationship he had with the character I
played throughout the whole period.

So what I was aiming at when I set out to make the film and what I
eventually ended up with are two extremely different things. And what I decided my
film would be has undoubtedly gained another meaning after he was elected Prime
Minister of the State of Israel from close to oblivion. In the course of
making the film I realized that I was making a different film from the one I
intended in more than one way. Did I answer your question?

RA: You gave me some very good insight into exactly what happened with you,
personally, while making the film. I was also thinking about the dynamics
between politicians, the media and the public. In order to sway public opinion,
a politician must really first convince that single reporter doing the
interview. That journalist has a lot of power, and if he or she finds the
politician likable, there is a much greater chance that the politician’s policies will
be conveyed positively to the public. I guess when I asked the last
question, I had the relationship between a public figure and the media in mind as
well the relationship between the public figure and the public in mind. After
all, you were playing a double role – journalist and concerned private citizen.

But I have another question: Though a sense of staging and humor plays a
large role in your work – despite the seriousness of the subject matter - your
most recent piece “Wait, it’s the Soldiers, I Have to Hang Up Now” (2002), is
characterized by a sense of hopelessness. Would you please give me a short
synopsis and then write why the tone has changed? 

AM: “Wait…” is a 13 minute video consisting of one shot of myself during a
phone conversation with George Khleifi, a Palestinian friend who lives in
Ramalla, during the incursion to the Palestinian cities in the occupied
territories last April. The conversation takes place not long after Israeli soldiers
entered his apartment and searched it, and ends when the soldiers come in

When the Israeli incursion to the Palestinian cities started, I began making
daily phone calls to a few Palestinians I knew in the reoccupied cities.
None of them had been a close personal friend before, all were filmmakers. I was
worried about their well being and I could not think of anything better to
do (other than to go to the demonstrations that were even more despairing
because so few people showed up) but to call people up and talk to them, listen
to what they experience and be shameful. The majority of the Israeli public
was supporting the incursion. I found myself having bitter arguments with
people who not long ago were part of the “peace camp”, I found it almost
impossible to penetrate people's defensive shield and make sense of their ignoring the
chain reaction that was to follow the incursion and the fact that it was not
going to lead us anywhere out of this mess. So the phone calls were aimed to
support the persons on the other side of the line but were also very much a
rescue from a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling of loss in a situation where
I felt I had no power whatsoever, a devastation of our (the Israeli left)
inability to leave a mark on the history of the Middle East. 

Being what I am, I videotaped the calls (more than fifty hours of tape that
will probably never be processed). I did not plan to do anything with them,
but recording myself on the phone has become almost a second nature after
making “Sharon”. 

My tone has not changed in this video. I think that all my films leave you
with an uneasy feeling of little hope. The tools of conveying that has
changed. In previous films I could take a distant look at a situation and thus allow
myself to play with the ways and means of depicting it. In this video I was
paralyzed by the situation. I was taken by it and could not shake it off. I
was too desperate to be able to take a step backwards and look for appropriate
filters to let the story flow through. I felt I was not able to take the
situation and mold it like clay to tell something more than what the direct
experience was. And indeed in this particular time I felt I was not able to make
any filmic account of reality and spent a lot of time just encouraging the
persons on the other side of the line to capture what they were experiencing
and deliver it to the outside world to see. Months later I recalled this
particular conversation and realized that its strength could be derived not from
what you see (after all there is not much to see in this tape) but from what
you don't see.

RA: I have to go back here to your assertion that the tone didn’t change. I
think it did change. There is a feeling of frustration and absurdity in your
other films, but “Wait... “ is so straight in its form that any of the
lightness found in the other works is now missing. There is no artistic moment of
transferal or translation through characters, a storyboard or any other
artistic device. It is a 13 minute run down of the recent history of the broken
peace “process” from one viewpoint, which may or may not be shared by others.
This is a long way from “The Deportation” or “Sharon”. Come to think of it,
“Wait... “ is almost the opposite of the video installation “Relief” in that it
has almost no abstraction.

MA: It's true, but when “Wait... “was made I was in no condition to be able
to make an abstraction of reality like in the other pieces. I was struck by
the fact that my family (you see bits and pieces of them in the background)
and I were conducting a normal life when the person on the other side of the
line had his house invaded by soldiers. And those soldiers were our soldiers,
we sent them there. The fact that I could do nothing to change the situation
has left me helpless and thus I felt any “creative” treatment of the situation
would have been immoral.

RA: What is the reaction to your work inside Israel?

AM: Until not long ago I could characterize the reaction to my films as
enthusiastic. People expressed a lot of respect for the humor, the irony, the
liberties I take in filmmaking, even the politics (although some of my political
allies found it hard to see the irony in “Sharon” and expressed fear that
the film would pave the path for Mr. Sharon into peoples hearts. Palestinians
in particular could not watch this film without feeling uncomfortable). 

With “August” there was a big change and I somehow got very little reaction
whatsoever. Before the film's broadcast the biggest newspaper in the country
printed a huge interview with me, but after the broadcast there was complete
silence. Nobody wrote a critique in the newspapers (not even a bad one, and
there are daily television critiques in all the newspapers). Little by little
I started hearing that a lot of people were unhappy with my own aggressive
behavior in the street scenes in the film. The film was broadcast in April
2002, a few days after I shot the phone call that's in “Wait…” so I comfort
myself with the thought that maybe the film has hit a sensitive nerve, and it was
ignored because it was so blunt, but this only helps me survive. I don't
really know if the film left an impression on the Israeli public or not.

RA: I am surprised that people were unhappy with your behavior. You had a
camera and were trying to get original, on site material as any journalist
would do. Even if you were calling yourself a filmmaker and not officially a
journalist, it seemed you were just trying to hold your ground and not let
yourself be shooed away from a public scene by the authorities. It’s something that
is almost considered heroic by those who try to insure the public’s right to
information. Is it a sign that there is something happening in Israel that
is happening in many democratic societies right now – an increased tolerance
for the security state because people feel so unsafe?

AM: I guess what people did not sympathize with was the fact that I took
part in the street aggression and towards the end of the film I became like
those I was filming. If I analyze what happens, I can see how the audience can
enjoy what is going on until the third part. The house scenes are strange but
funny, the filmmaker's wish to document the street aggression can be
sympathized with and the audience can identify with him. But when in the last third,
the filmmaker himself becomes like those he documents and the audience finds
itself not looking at the others misbehaving, but looking at ourselves in
embarrassing situations, then the film becomes a film about us and this is indeed
an uncomfortable situation. I think that when the audience realizes that
they have to become self-critical through my behavior, they can either become
introspective or desert me for my bad manners. Apparently, self criticism is
not what people do a lot in present day Israel.

February 2003

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