An Interview with Ammar Albeik (Director)
To Make Films Is to Live
Q: What was the impetus for you, a Syrian director, to make a film about Samia, a Palestinian?
AA: There are many reasons why I make films. To start with, one big reason is that for me, to make films is to live, and it’s a means of living. Then of course there’s meeting Samia—her existence as a painter is very important, and her stance with regard to the Palestinian problem is sincere, and has an extreme clarity. Her attitude left a deep impression on me. The Palestinian problem is an extremely important issue that has a sixty year history in Arab society. We can probably say that all the problems in the Arab world stem from this major issue—it cannot be ignored.
From the standpoint of the history of humankind, the 60 year history of Palestinian dispossession might seem a short one, but when it comes to a people’s land being stolen, I think it’s necessary to earnestly tackle the issue.
Q: Please tell us about your encounter with Samia.
AA: There was an exhibition of hers in Syria, and that’s where we met. Her paintings left a deep impression on me. For many years I’ve known that Samia the painter, who fled Palestine with her family in 1948, has been living in New York.
Q: Please tell us about the development of the film.
AA: At first, I thought I would shoot a 20 minute fiction piece set in the Old City of Jerusalem. Because I cannot, as a Syrian, enter Palestine, I had been searching for a place similar to the Old City, and I eventually found a similar district in Greece. After making that film I got to know Samia, and when she asked me if there was a gift or anything that I wanted, I asked her if she would be able to hold a Palestinian stone in her hand, take a photo of it and send it to me. But she didn’t just send me a picture, she also sent me a video. When I saw that video I thought “wow.” She had sent me this wonderful video, better than anything I’d shot. And that’s when I thought I would start afresh with a film that would include the video that she sent me. Because I’m an independent filmmaker, I can make films freely. So that’s how I tore apart my old film and switched to making the new one; this is how I could take on a new challenge and adventure.
Samia is 73 years old. We know that she’s a painter, and we know the way she connects with Palestine. We can think of the young woman who appears in this film, dressed in black clothes, as representing not just Ramallah but the whole of Palestine, and also as an extension of Samia’s existence. The fact that she continuously walks for 4 minutes, continuously walks from light to shadow, that’s the section that expresses the situation of not knowing which way Palestine can turn now.
Q: As far as you’re concerned, what is documentary?
AA: I think film theorists frequently fall into the trap of trying to precisely divide fiction from documentary. But this video that you’re taking of me talking right here and now for example, in part it’s a record of reality, but at the same time it’s also us relating our stories, so documentary and fiction are overlapping in this interview. Through making films, I think I’d like to create that ambiguity that exists between fiction and documentary, or perhaps I should say that feeling of “well, which is it?” which brings about uncertainty in audiences’ minds. If I’m talking about my own film, the scene with the woman dressed in black might be fiction, but it is also in part a record of the place where it was shot. The sections where Samia gathers stones and talks about all kinds of things, those may well be a document, but they are also her own tale. I think that films which are simultaneously both documentary and fiction are different from television reportage, and that they are more creative.
(Compiled by Kimuro Shiho)
Interviewers: Kimuro Shiho, Hiroya Motoko / Interpreter: Mori Shintaro / Translator: Oliver Dew
Photography: Hayashi Shoko / Video: Kudo Rumiko / 2009-10-09