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A rather belated final blog update from Price of Kings co-director Richard Symons, reflecting on the team's final screening on their Middle East tour:
After Tuesday night's Ramallah high, something had to give.
We put it down to bad vibes from the Allenby Bridge border crossing, but by the time we arrived in Amman, Jo was wheelchair-bound with her leg in a plaster cast.
At Allenby, Palestinians are separated out onto segregated busses, I'm guessing that this is so if anything goes down at the Israeli checkpoint it's away from the eyes of international travellers. In any case, after a bad fall off our bus we found ourselves ambulancing Jo to the local hospital's x-ray unit and it would be another couple of hours before we were back en route.
The last time we were in Jordan was to shoot Bassam Abu Sharif and the village of Karameh for the Arafat film. Bassam was Time magazine 1970's "Face of Terror" and the man who recruited/trained "Carlos the Jackal" We'd spent a day interviewing him and he confirmed he was coming to tonight's screening in the amphitheatre of the Royal Film Commission.
Bassam had quite literally put his life on the line more than once for both Arafat and the Palestinian struggle. Having spent the day with him was an education in itself and provided way more insight than we could include in the finished film [you can see exclusive footage here] We'd also discovered he wasn't a man who suffered fools gladly. No-nonsense, no bullshit. This would be the first time he'd see the film.
Jordan's ties with Arafat are deep and divided in opinion on his leadership. Originally we'd had two long sequences in the film that had to be cut [some of this is in the extras online and DVD] - the battle of El Karameh and Black September (in particular his escape with Munib al Masri when this went down). Did this mean we'd be seen as having written them out of his history ? We could only hope they'd understand 70 years of history isn't easily packed into the length of a film.
The screening went well - hard not to when the setting was so extraordinary but there was an ominous silence for the credits and our entrance to the Q&A (despite Jo on crutches) which contrasted strongly with the previous night in Ramallah.
It's always going to be tough to play a film to the people who've lived through it's events and therefore fuse what they've experienced first hand with what they've been told by the media at the time. For example, one audience member claimed Clinton/Washington knew about the Oslo negotiations saying, "you know nothing", effectively refusing to accept the testimony of the actual negotiators who in the film said it was secret.
I scanned the audience and Bassam's seat was empty.
After about 20 minutes some of the audience started coming round whilst others who had previously kept quiet began defending the film and things started to even out a little - either way, it was a stark reminder that not only were we dealing with extremely sensitive and controversial subject matter, but also that opinions held on Arafat, were held passionately.
We tried to call Bassam afterwards, figuring we may as well face the music but couldn't get through...
The worry stayed with us till the next morning. He got in touch via email - no explanation as to why he'd left in the Q&A but all was good... he'd liked the film. No time for relief - just a dash to the gate and homewards bound.
Price of Kings co-director Richard Symons' notes from the screening of our Arafat film in Ramallah last night:
Tues 10/07/12, 9.00am. 10 hours to go.
So far, so good... but Ramallah is a 300+ seater and all the press would be there. The word was it would be packed but like Jenin the night before, we'd gone for a free screening on a first come, first served basis which can go either way. After Al Jazeera's report on Arafat's poisoning the week before, there'd been protest on Ramallah's streets. We couldn't get clear confirmations from many of the Palestinian Authority's leadership on whether they would come. It could easily be a very empty cinema or perhaps a very publicly badly received film in front of a packed audience - not sure which would be worse.
I've got a splitting headache, which is not going away. 3 hours sleep and up early to work on cutting the films down to under 60 mins for TV with Andrew and Lucy editing in London via remote. Every cut's painful. Films feel too fast and missing many of the beloved nuances we'd painfully worked on for so long.
1.00 pm: Still no confirmation from the PA. General Tirawi, who features in the film is coming.
3.30 pm: Munib al Masri, another interviewee and one of Arafat's first backers confirms.
4.00 pm: More media confirmations and interview requests. We can't fit them all in, some will have to be tomorrow morning - delaying our departure for Jordan. Headache going nowhere and finally decide to take something.
5.30 pm: Soundcheck. The Al Kasaba - Ramallah's only cinema looks large and empty. The projector's a little underpowered and the film looks overly dark. We do our best to brighten things up. It's not ideal.
6.50 pm: General Tirawi's here. Last time we saw him was in Jericho at his training camp. He impresses. A quiet smile and solid as a rock. What's he going to think of himself in the film ? No-one likes to see themselves on screen and Tirawi made a serious exception to appear. More nerves. I go to the bar for a drink out of sight.
7.00 pm: We should be starting the film… Tirawi's inside presumably with the 60 or so other people who are here on time. I ask Hindi what's up. He tells me Brits never get used to middle-eastern time-keeping.
7.20 pm: Munib al Masri arrives, Jo and I walk him in. The cinema's packed, perhaps 30 seats empty with more coming in. By the time the lights go down people have filled the aisles.
Applause and tears during the film, a silence on the corruption stuff. More applause at the end. More tears in the audience during the Q&A that set off Jo and the compere. A blessed relief.
Price of Kings co-director Richard Symons reflects on last night's Arafat screening in Jenin, West Bank:
What an extraordinary evening. My scrambled notes can't do it justice. Apologies.
We'd deliberated for ages over whether to screen in Jenin or Ramallah. Tight for time, we could only afford one night of screening in the West Bank. On the ground everybody told us we simply had to screen in both - which meant over the course of our 5 days here we'd be showing the films on 5 nights, in 4 cities/towns, with Q&A's after each screening and press during the day. We figured if we couldn't make the choice, that probably meant there was none - so we committed to screening in both.
When forming the series we were determined to show each leader for good and bad (in other words, human). Arafat's leadership has always polarised opinion - passionately - but it's his people who've lived through the consequences and this would be the first time they'd see the film. The reaction in Jenin would be as important as it was unknowable. We also had no idea what the cinema, sound system, etc. would be like… and it's always the dull technical stuff that can trip up a screening.
To say we were amazed would be an understatement. The cinema is remarkable on so many levels - a state of the art projector for the main screen, at the rear a beautiful garden with restaurant and another, open-air screen. You can sit out back, smoke a shisha, have a meal and watch a film. In two weeks time they're switching over completely to solar power and there's enough juice generated to supply the surrounding houses.
7.10. A strong turnout not helping our pre-Q&A nerves. Apparently the recently-appointed governor is here (previous one died of a heart attack after gunmen raided his house)
7.15 Lights down and before we knew it the final credits… I won't bore you with the details, applause etc. Relief.
Q&A was made by a lady who voiced something we simply hadn't heard in all the Q&A's we've faced over the films…
"I hadn't realised how hard leadership is."
There've been plenty of other occasions where critics have attacked the decisions made by Arafat and whenever we'd asked them what they'd have done instead (even with the benefit of hindsight) they've floundered. However you feel about the man, that lady nailed it.
Co-director Richard Symons reflects on the second Price of Kings screening of our film on the life of Israeli President Shimon Peres at The Jerusalem Film Festival 2012:
A ragged night's sleep. Wanted to get my thoughts down whilst the shock's still in place. Not from the Peres screening or Q&A but from the dinner conversation afterwards.
The Q&A saw a passionately divided audience, some objecting to critics who queried Peres's motivation as President in an extraordinary manner - dismissive and dogmatic to the point of deliberate rudeness as opposed to engaging in debate . Others apologised for the former's behaviour - saying they were ashamed.
Dinner afterwards was with Ruth Dayan (ex-wife of General Moshe Dayan) and friends, one of whose son had been on a peace rally in Tel Aviv where he was arrested, beaten up and subsequently had to chose between prosecuting/making a stink over it or accepting the police denial.
This was a mother from a diplomatic family, with connections extending not only into politicians but also some of the most influential and powerful in the Jewish diaspora - all of whom wanted her to speak out. Her son, a 28 year old Harvard graduate with political ambitions also wanted to go the route of prosecution/making a stink. It was clear the parents believed the son's version of events and that whoever had laid into him in the back of a Police van, with his hands tied, had seriously over-stepped the mark.
I tried to imagine my own parents' reaction.
Never politically conscious growing up I'd still managed to "engage" with the UK police on more than one occasion with… let's call it youthful exuberance - the last, aged 27, led to an undeserved overnight stay in the cells. Nothing as severe as being beaten up but two weeks later the head of the South Thames Valley Police was personally apologising over tea.
Somewhere along the line, the Harvard graduate's mother, with all her connections, despite her son's arguments, decided not to go after the Police responsible. Unimaginable. Somehow her family had taken the beating as acceptable. The best she could offer in hindsight more was a rueful, "perhaps we should have done something".
Any country's judiciary is it's last line of defence against an over-zealous bureaucracy/government. But it's useless without the public dragging civil servants in front of it. Doubly so when the bureaucracy believe they won't be brought to account.
Impossible to know how representative this is but it was pretty much dwarfed by the elephant in the room - if a well-connected Israeli mother had felt "defeated" (her own words) when balancing the rule of law against her son taking an illegal beating for exercising his right to free speech, where does that leave Palestinian mothers?
Price of Kings Co-director Richard Symons reflects on the team's first day at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and the screening of our Yasser Arafat documentary.
Apart from the obvious nerves of actually screening the film on Yasser Arafat in Jerusalem, the after-film Q&A was my main cause of concern. The only way to figure out how rough a ride we were going to get would be to sit through it with the audience. Sold out, we'd given up our seats thinking it'd be no problem to simply slip in and out through the rear entrance. Except when we arrived at the cinema it became clear there was no rear entrance. Slipping in and out could only be done by a door to the left of the screen in full view of the audience,
We sat outside waiting to go on listening for clues. There weren't any. Couldn't hear a thing until the door opened and a steward appeared, ushering us in. Through the open door you could hear Suha Arafat's last lines on screen signalling the end music, credits. Light up and… applause. Phew.
Not to say we didn't face strong questions on the use of terror, corruption etc. and our perspective/handling of them, as well as one of the best questions we'd ever had on Arafats negotiations with Rabin post-Oslo and the Buruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron. The Q&A ran over to such an extent we had to continue it in a hall next door and it was clear many of the audience were coming to the Peres screening tonight.
Addendum - our Shimon Peres screening sold out. Word's come in the film's being debated on Israel's Ch1 news (BBC equivalent) tonight, will be fascinating to see the difference in the media debate.