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?