Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Filmmaker Mohammad Bakri Screens His Latest Film in New York

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Filmmaker Mohammad Bakri Screens His Latest Film in New York

Article excerpt

MOHAMMAD BAKRI'S latest film, the 2005 documentary "Since You Left," chronicles his life as a Palestinian in Israel since the uproar which greeted the 2002 screening in Israel of his "Jenin, Jenin." Bakri is an esteemed actor and director whose film credits include "Hanna K." (1983), "Haifa" (1995) and "Private" (2004). The New Israel Fund sponsored a June 18 screening in New York of "Since You Left."

The "You" in the title is Bakri's mentor, Emil Habibi, who died in 1996. Habibi was the author of The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, a classic of modern Arab literature, which Bakri adapted as a one-man play. "Since You Left" feels like a lament for the fading possibility of Arab and Israeli coexistence to which Habibi and Bakri were dedicated. Recalling Palestinian suicide bombings and Israel's Operation Defensive Shield of April 2002, Bakri tells Habibi on a visit to the author's grave site, "You see, Abu Salaam, the foolishness of the oppressor and of the oppressed. You were lucky not to have seen Jenin."

During Israel's 2002 invasion of Jenin, Bakri participated in a nonviolent demonstration at a checkpoint outside the West Bank city. He was shocked when Israeli soldiers shot at the crowd, wounding a fellow actor standing next to him. This, he said, led to the making of "Jenin, Jenin." Soon after the invasion ended, Bakri sneaked into Jenin with a camera and sound man and shot for five days and nights, asking the traumatized residents only, "What happened?"

The following month, Israel accused seven members of the extended Bakri family of involvement in a May 8 terror attack at Meron Junction. The family sued two newspapers to clear its name, but Bakri then realized that his nephews had taken part in the deed. Four were indicted and two given life sentences. "Guilt is strange," he tells the camera, "more difficult than death."

"Wonderful Timing"

In the midst of this, "Jenin, Jenin" premiered at the Cinematique in Tel Aviv on Oct. 28, 2002. "Look what wonderful timing," Bakri ruefully remarks in the film. A riot ensued. Bakri was accused of blood libel and of being a Palestinazi traitor to the state of Israel. "They made me out to be at least Bin Laden," he notes. The camera captures a member of the Knesset urging Israelis to boycott Bakri's plays. Israel banned the movie as propaganda, prompting Bakri and his son to sell video copies on the street. …

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