"Empecé con esta serie de películas sobre los palestinos hace casi 40 años, con ahora cuatro películas, intentando darles un poco de diginidad a los palestinos refugiados, expulsados de su país." George Sluizer
"What we talk about Palestine often isn't the landmass, but the feelings of rage, anguish, and displacement (literal and figurative) that its political condition excites. The excited people are frequently not Palestinian, but those in the Western media, whose voices cry out much more loudly than those of Palestinians do. Yet whenever I watch government officials decry either side, I can't help but think of the moment in Godard's Film Socialisme where the word "Palestine" appears with a big red slash through it.
Access to Palestinian narratives is blocked by settlement walls. (It says something about marketing's search for familiar images that the best known Palestinian film in America, Paradise Now, is about suicide bombers.) I feel deprived of a large and very important number of stories about Palestine, which are the stories Palestinians are telling about themselves." Aaron Culter (slantmagazine.com)
"That issue is Israel's willingness to use military force, along with the willingness of stronger world powers (first England, now the United States) to support it. Not that Israel's 1948 creation was a bad idea: Jews needed to feel like they had a safe place post-WWII, especially considering most of the world's refusal to help them during the Holocaust. But the irony of the idea of Israel as a safe haven is that the country's been under attack since its founding, partly because the area's nearby former European colonies (Jordan, Syria, Libya, etc.) have viewed it as a continuing Western imposition.
Zionism is first and foremost a political movement, though Israel's place as the Jewish homeland has often simultaneously made it a religious one. The debate over Palestine, now essentially an Israeli territory, has been clouded by both Israel supporters and detractors equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. A reason it seems like war in the Middle East will never cease is that parties won't dispense with their inflammatory rhetoric" Aaron Culter (slantmagazine.com)
An interview with Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer about the making of the documentary Homeland, which won this year's "Best Documentary Award" at the ADFF
Why did you call your film Homeland? Is it because you felt you were going back home? Do you consider Lebanon to be another home for you?
Not so much for me, but for the Palestinians. In the film and in the world in general, the word "homeland" is often used by Palestinians. They talk about homeland as a concept; Mahmoud Darwish was one of the first to do so, many years ago. I thought it was appropriate to call the film Homeland. It's not so much my homeland, as it's the one the Palestinians had to leave in 1948.
Your outlook on Palestine and the Palestinian cause comes by way of two families who are settled in Lebanon, about whom you had already made films in the past. Why did you choose to go back and film them again?
Before making this film I thought, if Jerusalem becomes a two-nation city, or if a peace agreement is reached, I will close the series. But my decision was precipitated because I had an aneurysm. I did not know if I would live for long, and I wanted to finish this series. I really felt I wanted to go back to see the two families. I had become friends with these people; I'm a part of their families. When I chose them in 1974, it was because they had the appearance of strong people, good people who could represent the good side of the Palestinians. At the time I felt they were mistreated and badly handled by the Israeli government.
Was it difficult for you to track down the members of the Jadda and Hammad families in 2009 and 2010?
Not really, because I had kept contact with them over the years. I was in Lebanon in 2006, and I went to visit the families. I always kept in touch with both families, so it was not difficult.
You approach the Palestinian cause from a very personal point of view. Many movies have been made about the Palestinian cause, and they approach it from a journalistic, political or ideological standpoint. But you choose the head-on, personal way. Is this caused by your relationship to these families? Did this format impose itself? Or did you choose to do this film from a personal point of view because you found that the Palestinian problem should be approached in such a way?
I would say that partly it has to do with the fact that I felt very close to the two families. So there was a kind of internal logic to be interested… On the other hand, even if I was ill, I could still read the news in 2008-9, and I became more and more frustrated and angry with the Israeli government's approach to the situation in the Middle East. I felt that there was both aggressiveness and stupidity on the part of the Israeli government. And adding together these two traits of character is very dangerous, because you cannot reach any goal whatsoever, no peace, nothing. You only go nuts, as I call it. You don't know how to deal with political situations anymore, you start lying and telling stories, giving wrong orders to your army and soldiers and so on… So there was that as well: I felt I had to open my mouth to express my anger, to support the Palestinians as much as I could, and make them talk. Don't forget that in the beginning, the news was 100% Israeli and 0% Palestinian. There was no money and no technical means for the Palestinians to express themselves, to provide a counter-balance to what was written in the press by most Western newspapers. If you take New York Times or Los Angeles Times, London Herald or The Guardian, you discover that the news was always slightly twisted towards the Israelis' side.
There was a piece on the news this morning about the Israeli government asking all the inhabitants of the land to swear an oath of allegiance to Israel. Some personalities from the world of cinema have already reacted: Mike Leigh has cancelled a trip to Israel because of this new law. So basically, this mistreatment has been going on for a long time.
It's getting worse, in my view. Unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic. I think, to tell you the truth, that the government and the military have no clue what they're doing, they're lost, I would say they've gone nuts, in a certain way, and won't listen to anybody in the world anymore. They don't understand that they cannot hold that position forever. It's nice to pretend that you're the only democracy in the Middle East, but democracy can turn easily to fascism, and that's what I smell coming up, that Israel is becoming a very dangerous country.
There's a shot in the film of you speaking with Sharon on his hospital bed. You're remembering a story about your first encounter with him, when he had shot those kids in front of you. This scene could have gone wrong in many ways, but it doesn't. You are very careful to show him blurred, and you escape all the possible traps that the scene could have held. I was wondering if any parts of this film were pre-written, if you had known in advance that you would film Ariel Sharon.
I can tell you that nothing was pre-written, which made it very tough to get money. Everyone nowadays wants you to write a synopsis or a treatment or a script or something, before they give you money. I refused because I did not want to go through what I call the bureaucratic system. I wanted to be free and remain a filmmaker, someone who uses his eyes and his ears, his heart and his soul, and not have these preset situations where you film what you've written. Everything was improvised. There are two scenes where I'm obviously reading from a piece of paper, because my memory is not so good, on account of my illness. If I want to say something without making a mistake, I have to write it down for memory's sake. It's the "black hole," as I call it, because my nervous system has failed me. The rest is all improvised. To a certain extent, the meeting with Father Hammad at the beginning and his attitude towards me motivated me for the film. As for the Sharon sequence, it has a personal side. I was there in Beirut when he was in charge in 82-83, unfortunately. I've seen him not only kill, but also mistreat and insult people. He was also irresponsible as an army chief. Yes I can't say that I'm very fond of Sharon, to say the least.
Have you watched the animated movie Waltz with Bashir, which was made by an Israeli filmmaker about his experience in Lebanon? And more recently the movie Lebanon? What did you think about them?
Yes I've seen them. I thought that Waltz with Bashir was a very good movie. The animation struck me because it was very simple, and at the same time very meaningful. It is not just animation, drawings… it has a soul. I saw it a year ago, and I remember that it made me reflect on what I was going to do.
Going back to your previous question, I would say Homeland was all improvised, but I am a filmmaker, I don't film randomly. I'm used to working with very little stock, and to think before I start shooting. So it is improvisation, yes, but it is well thought. It's a voluntary construction.
Are you referring to the different quotations from the Israeli leaders?
Yes, the narration of the film comes from Israeli leaders from the past until today. It's a selection I made after reading everything I could lay my hands on for six months. Most of it comes from Israel, by the way, and it is not always translated into English. There are some statements that are considered too dangerous to be officially translated into English or French. There is a story about Barak, when he was in Washington with Arafat… This is something new, which is not in the film. Barak wrote in Hebrew to one of his friends in Parliament, through the diplomatic pouch, thinking that no one would see it… It has just come out, I read the article in Haaretz about four weeks ago, where he makes fun of Clinton, calls him an asshole, and says "I'm not there for peace, I will take care that there is no peace, and that people will blame Arafat, because we are better off with war than with peace." This is a Barak statement, published four weeks ago, in an official Israeli paper.
Do you feel that the situation of the Palestinians has become worse over the years since you first filmed in Lebanon?
Yes, I don't know if it goes up and down, you know, sometimes in history things go up and down, but at this moment I would say it's a down-process, unfortunately.