What would you do if someone took what was yours? At the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Israeli government is building a separation wall that snakes through several Palestinian villages. Budrus, population 1,500, stands to lose 300 acres and 3,000 of the olive trees that are crucial to the town’s survival. But husband and father Ayed—whose activistic behavior has landed him in prison before—is determined to act.
“We don’t have time for wars,” Ayed says. “We want to raise our families.” Indeed, entire families become involved in the nonviolent protest, with Ayed’s own teenage daughter standing with other women and young people literally at the front of the marches. Award-winning documentarian Julia Bacha’s (“Encounter Point”) engagingly produces an inspirational film. Her raw, handheld video captures the chaos at the front lines as the Israeli soldiers’ nightsticks start flying and their rubber bullets give way to real ones. Soon rival parties Fatah and Hamas, Western activists, and even groups of Israelis are united peaceably behind the people of Budrus, allowing us a galvanizing glimpse into the power of ordinary people to peaceably fight for extraordinary changes in one of the most war-torn parts of the world. [Synopsis courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival]
World Documentary Feature Competition
Director: Julia Bacha
Primary Cast: Ayed Morrar, Iltezam Morrar, Kobi Snitz, Yasmine Levy, Ahmed Awwad, Doron Spielman
Screenwriter: Julia Bacha
Producer: Ronit Avni, Julia Bacha, Rula Salameh
Executive Producer: Ronit Avni, Jehane Noujaim
Directors of Photography: Shai Pollack, Monalisa Sundbom, Jonathan Massey, Julia Bacha, Riyad Deis, Mohammed Fawzi
Editor: Geeta Gandbhir
Composer: Kareem Roustom
82 min., Israel/Palestine/U.S.
Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.]
Director Julia Bacha on what lead her to become a documentary filmmaker…
I became a documentary filmmaker almost by accident. After graduating with a degree in Middle Eastern history at Columbia University and being denied a visa to Iran where I was enrolled at Tehran University, I met Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim in Cairo and became a co-writer and editor of her critically acclaimed documentary “Control Room.” The success of the film in the U.S. made me realize I could have a conversation with a much larger audience as a documentary filmmaker than I could as a historian. After a stint editing National Geographic docs, I joined Just Vision, a nascent non-profit organization helmed by human rights advocate Ronit Avni that aims to catalyze media coverage of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the conflict through unarmed strategies. There, I wrote and co-directed “Encounter Point,” which follows the courageous efforts of Palestinians and Israelis who lost something precious to the conflict and are nevertheless working toward justice and peace in the Middle East. “Budrus” is the second feature documentary released by Just Vision.
Bacha on what she wanted to explore with “Budrus”…
For seven years now, villages across the West Bank have experienced a resurgence in nonviolent strategies to resist the Israeli Occupation. Combining tactics borrowed from the first intifada in the 1980’s with the active participation of Israeli and international activists, this movement, though still fragile, carries great potential for the region. However, local and international journalists have only recently started covering this story (the front page story in the NYT today was the first of its kind and could indicate a turning point). For the film, I wanted to focus on a success story to show what is possible when people unite to engage in civil disobedience, even in the Middle East. The story of Budrus, a small Palestinian village, provided the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.
Bacha on her ambitious approach to shooting “Budrus”…
I was lucky to work with an incredible team of Palestinians, Israelis and North Americans at Just Vision, an organization dedicated to documenting and disseminating the work of Palestinian and Israeli civilians working for freedom, security, dignity and peace without arms. Through extensive research, we were able to collect footage from over a dozen activists who had been in Budrus at some point during the movement. We also built an enduring relationship with Iltezam Morrar, Ayed’s teenage daughter, whose charisma and strength provide the heartbeat of the documentary, as it did for the struggle. The film would not have been complete however without hearing the point of view of the Border Police officers who had to deal with what was one of the first organized unarmed movements to challenge the route of the Separation Barrier. We were fortunate that the squad commander, Yasmine Levy, agreed to talk earnestly with us. We were also able to include the perspective of Captain Doron Spielman, an Israeli Army spokesperson at the time.
And on the challenges she faced in bringing her film to the screen…
Fundraising was and continues to be the biggest challenge. We raised all the money for the film through tax deductible donations to Just Vision, which is a non-profit. The economic downturn in the U.S. made this process very challenging.
Bacha on the North American premiere of “Budrus” at Tribeca…
Everywhere the film has screened so far – Dubai, Berlin, London – audiences have been completely surprised that they had never heard about Budrus before. I believe this will be even truer at Tribeca, where audiences are particularly interested and involved in the Middle East. This will be the North American premiere of the film and is a particularly special opening since my previous documentary, “Encounter Point,” had its world premiere at Tribeca in 2006. All the filmmakers, and two of the Palestinian and Israeli protagonists of the film will be in New York so the Q&A’s promises to be quite lively and moving too.
And on what’s in store for the future…
I continue to serve as the Media Director at Just Vision and we are planning to launch a short film series about the most exciting grassroots strategies being used by Palestinians and Israelis to end the struggle nonviolently.