You would think, listening to both the makers and the critics of the new film Miral, that Julian Schnabel’s self-described “pro-Palestinian film” was breaking new ground. “The thing I didn’t know or had a feeling about was how controversial it would be to make a movie about Palestinian people,” says Schnabel. “Because it seems like you can make a movie about anybody but them.”
But such films are often made — for starters, in Israel, where Jewish as well as Palestinian filmmakers have frequently exercised their freedom to make honest, rounded, often uncomfortable films about real people on both sides of the conflict. See The Lemon Tree, Eran Riklis’ searing 2008 portrait of a Palestinian family dispossessed by an Israeli political leader. Or Knowledge Is the Beginning, the Emmy Award-winning documentary about Daniel Barenboim’s joint Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra. Both were shown at Jewish film festivals around the country.
The difference is this: When Israelis and Arabs make these films, they consider themselves artists, not martyrs to a cause. The folks marketing Miral, however, would like you to believe they are suffering for their courage. To build buzz, the Weinstein Co. has been promoting Miral with a poster featuring a barbed-wire star of David and a tagline calling it “the movie they tried to stop.”
“I know a good line when I hear it,” producer Harvey Weinstein told a reporter. “Seriously, though, it is true that attempts were made to halt the premiere at the UN, and I did find that sad and troubling. Our ultimate goal is to get people to see Miral, a movie we love and believe in, and one we think can promote valuable dialogue.”
True, some Jewish groups objected to the film’s being shown at the United Nations, calling it a reflection of the UN’s bias (an important distinction). As far as trying to block wider distribution of the film? Please. If Weinstein and Schnabel are interested in dialogue, they might start by dropping their victim’s pose and refraining from reducing their critics to an ominous “they.”