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"Middle Eastern cinema should become awareness-raising cinema, like European cinema is"

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Eran Riklis • Director


- The Israeli director screens Dancing Arabs in Locarno, a ‘comedy drama’ view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 90s

Eran Riklis  • Director

Living in the Middle East is a question of identity, said Israeli director Eran Riklis. This is why he feels obliged to deal with the conflicts that take place there in most of his films. In Dancing Arabs [+see also:
interview: Eran Riklis
film profile
he narrates the problems of adapting for a brilliant young Israeli-Palestinian who is stuyding in a secondary school in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 90s. The director has just shown the movie before thousands of people in an open air screening in the mythical Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival, after the current conflict in the Gaza strip prevented the movie from opening the latest Jerusalem Film Festival at the beginning of July, as was planned.

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Cineuropa: In order to explain the movie to the Italian-speaking audience of Locarno you said that in many ways Dancing Arabs is a very Italian story.
Eran Riklis: Yes, but in the Mediterranean sense. Spain, the south of France, Italy and the Middle East live in a similar way. In spite of everything they continue to be optimistic. I wanted the first part of this story to be lighter and ironic, I wanted the audience to relax. Then I wanted to move from laughter to smiles and, from there, to more serious and even tragic issues.

Despite the movie’s clear intentions, when developing the project you made some decisions based on instinct.
Yes, both adapting the novel and choosing the lead. When reading Sayed Kashua’ autobiography I guessed that this would help me to tell the things I wanted to tell, how to apply a bit of comedy to the film, something I hadn’t recently done in my career. When Tawfeek Barhom came to the casting to be the lead he told me that he knew me since he was a child, even if I wasn’t aware of this. Years back I had filmed a movie in his home town, a small Arab village, and he had visited the set. It was there that he decided he wanted to be an actor. What’s more, his biography shares some similarities with Sayed’s and his appearance also helped. For this story I needed someone who was an Arab but who could pass for a Jew.

When you were nominated at the European Film Awards for best screenplay for Lemon Tree  you said that one of the great things about this industry is that it makes "awareness-raising cinema".
European cinema is more taken up with portraying in its stories political affairs that are of interest beyond its borders. I adapt part of that tradition for my filmmaking, even if I also use the narrative resources characteristic of the American industry in order to make the story more accessible for people, like in Dancing Arabs

The movie, precisely because of its theme, was meant to open the latest edition of the Jerusalem Film Festival, but that didn’t work out.
The war prevented it. It was going to make its premiere in a screening like the one in Piazza Grande in Locarno, but the outbreak of the conflict meant that such mass events couldn’t take place and we decided to wait for a few days, thinking that the hostilities would end in a couple of days. Unfortunately that hasn’t occured, so we opted for an ordinary screening before the competition ended. I must say that Locarno, before thousands of people and outside, is a perfect substitute.

So do you think that cinema can make a positive contribution to the conflicts in the Middle East?
I believe that, aside from the conflict between Arabs and Israelis, the world doesn’t care much for what’s going on in the rest of the Middle East. That’s why I think that, just like European cinema, this cinema industry should become awareness-raising cinema. It’s not about dictating what the viewer should think, but as filmmakers we do say to whoever is on the other side of the screen: "This is what I know. I’m showing it to you. Now make your own decisions".

(Translated from Spanish)

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