Julian Schnabel and Rula Jebreal talk with Milos Stehlik about the film 'Miral'

Produced by Milos Stehlik

April 14, 2011

Produced by Worldview

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(Getty Images/Jemal Countess)
Director Julian Schnabel and screenwriter Rula Jebreal attend the premiere of their film "Miral."

The Julian Schnabel film, Miral, opens in Chicago this weekend. The major Hollywood release is based on an autobiographical book written by Rula Jebreal, also the film's screenwriter.

Miral is set in Israel and Palestine and recounts the linked and partial life stories of four Palestinian women, beginning in the last days of the British mandate and ending in the 1990s.

The film has attracted both attention and controversy.  Critics dismiss it as one-sided; supporters laud it for presenting Palestinians as everyday human beings and avoiding Arab stereotypes. Schnabel chose to premier his film at an unusual setting: the United Nations General Assembly.

Miral made news again this week following the assassination of one of its actors and collaborators, Juliano Mer-Khamis. (We spoke earlier this week on Worldview with independent journalist Max Budovitch about Mer-Khamis’ murder.)

Worldview film contributor Milos Stehlik of Facets Multi-media sat down with Schnabel and Jebreal earlier this week.  You can listen to the entire conversation through the audio link atop the page, but here are a few exceprts:

Julian Schnabel on his interest in Rula Jebreal's book and story:

I wanted to make a story about a girl. I hadn’t made a movie about a young girl yet, and I wanted to make a story about women.   I guess I did make a story about women when I did The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  I mean, I thought it was about a paralyzed guy, but it was really about a paralyzed guy’s view of women, and how all women become one woman to this man, and how he really needed them to help him.  But I’m always interested in making movies about children.  And I think it was about the child that was in Jean Michel, the child that was in John Doe, and certainly the child that was in Reinaldo Arenas.  And I think the thing that touched me most - one of the things about Rula’s book - was a relationship that this little girl had with the father.

Jebreal on the story and her film collaboration with Schnabel:

Julian wrote me a letter when he read my book and he wrote, "You know, your book is about being a child. And a child can be a promise that can be compromised or fulfilled." And he said, "I want to go back to that moment in life." That's why we shot it there - in that landscape, in Israel and in Palestine.  At the same time, it's about questioning our values.  Are we all equal? And it's a love letter.  It's a love letter that he wrote for his mother and I wrote for my country and my father and my teacher.

Schnabel on claims that 'Miral' is one-sided:

Sometimes when people have seen the movie there’s a prejudice against the film because it presents the Palestinians and they say “Well, the movie is one sided” and it’s not one-sided.  It's about that particular side.  So if we know who these people are, if we tell their story, and in fact, the story of Miral is much more innocuous, there’s nothing extraordinarily violent or cataclysmic that occurs.  It’s just a family living in a state of prolonged conflict.  And if we start to understand that this is a reality, that there are people on the other side of that wall, I think that we can solve [the conflict] because they will feel like somebody's listening to them also.

On making a political film:

I don't think it's like any other thing or any other film that another American director has done either, because I tried not to talk about politics. I just wanted to tell the story of this family.  And if I told the story of somebody in Afghanistan and Colombia or in any other place on this planet, there wouldn't be the same kind of resistance to hearing just the story of a Palestinian girl.

On filming on-location amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

I was there for six months.  We shot in the Al-Aqsa mosque. I shot in Ramallah and asked the Palestinian police department to get dressed up as Israeli soldiers.  I shot in the house where Nadia was raped in real life.   And I asked the Israeli crew not to speak Hebrew in the Sheikh Jerrah Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem because it was three days after the incursion in Gaza, and I didn't want to be like an invading army there.   And the Israelis and Palestinians that worked together were extremely cooperative.

On the response to the film around the world

I'd like to say that the best response to this movie is in this country, because in this country we actually believe that we have freedom of speech.  And people get up and they start to argue with each other and talk about things.  So I really appreciate the argument.  And what I understood as I got involved was that it was going to be an argument - and that it's a living, breathing thing.  And I like to think that art is, if I think about paintings, I like to think that they are utilitarian rather than decorative. You might like the way it looks on your wall, but it exudes a philosophy;  it is telling you a way to live; how you can live; or how it can help you see.  And I think this movie is something that is an interactive virtual reality kind of event, so it’s a vessel.  You can do with it what you want,  but I liked the fact that it's told in an expressionistic and a very subjective way.