Paradise Now: Hany Abu-Assad Is Making Motion Picture History with His Low-Budget Film, Paradise Now, Which Took Top Awards at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals, Won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and Became the First Ever Palestinian Oscar-Nomination

By Twair, Pat McDonnell | The Middle East, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Paradise Now: Hany Abu-Assad Is Making Motion Picture History with His Low-Budget Film, Paradise Now, Which Took Top Awards at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals, Won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and Became the First Ever Palestinian Oscar-Nomination


Twair, Pat McDonnell, The Middle East


THE FILMMAKER HAD NO HOPES HIS FILM, WHICH TACKLES the thorny issue of suicide bombers, would be chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for the Golden Globe. It didn't sink in that he had won until he heard the word "Palestine".

As the bedazzled 44-year-old Hany Abu-Assad accepted the award, he called it a recognition of the film, the cast and crew and "also a recognition that Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally". His words, which were instantaneously heard around the globe, transformed him into a hero in the Arab world. Backstage, Abu-Assad commented: "We came here with a $2m movie dealing with a subject no one wants to hear about and we won."

Only two weeks later the film went on to receive a nomination for the ultimate filmmaker's accolade in the foreign language category of the Academy Awards, competing with Don't Tell (Italy), Joyeux Noel (France), Sophie Scholl (Germany) and Tsotsi (South Africa.).

Abu-Assad was born in Nazareth where his liberal, wealthy family remains. He obtained a degree in engineering and has lived for the past 20 years in The Netherlands, where he first gained fame in 2002 for the award-winning Rana's Wedding.

He is currently temporarily living in Los Angeles while working on a two-film contract. One project will deal with how Arabs view their lives in the US. The other will explore the relationship between US government agencies and Arab-Americans after 9/11.

Paradise Now is an international effort. Abu-Assad co-wrote the story with Bero Beyer of The Netherlands; the script was polished during a six-week workshop at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. Its co-producers include an Israeli, a Frenchman and two Germans.

Film distributor Warner Independent also made history when it resisted a campaign of complaints and threats and opened the Palestinian movie in New York and Los Angeles theatres.

Abu-Assad and his crew of 70 underwent extreme personal danger when they filmed in Nablus during the summer of 2004. In order to enter Nablus, all were obliged to sign a document stating that if Israeli troops shot them, they were responsible for their own deaths.

Palestinian factions were suspicious of the foreigners' motives for making a film about suicide bombers. The location manager was kidnapped and released only after the late president, Yasser Arafat, interceded. On the 25th day in Nablus, the company evacuated when Israeli missiles were fired into the occupied city.

It is these rarely observed scenes of the legendary city that heighten the authenticity of this drama which weighs violence against pacifism, epitomised in an existential discussion about violence as a means to end the Israeli military occupation between one of the main characters, Said (Kais Nashef), and an unsuspecting pacifist, Suha (Lubna Azabal).

The stark realism of Paradise Now depicts the misery and hopelessness of Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation. The piercing look into the lives of two young Palestinians sworn to carry out a double suicide bomb mission in Tel Aviv has all the suspense and tension that Alfred Hitchcock created in his films half a century ago. …

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