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Palestinian Actress/Filmmaker Hiam Abbass Talks Politics and Integrity at Abu Dhabi Film Festival

By Ronan Doyle | Indiewire November 4, 2013 at 10:53AM

Never one to rest on her laurels, Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass arrived at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival not only to accept one of its prestigious Black Pearl awards for career achievement, but also to give one out as part of the narrative competition journey, and to present her latest movie, Ghazi Albuliwi’s New York-set culture-clash comedy "Peace After Marriage."
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"Inheritance"
"Inheritance"

Was the lack of that kind of role, to any extent, what led you into writing and directing your own material?

No, not really. I did photography, I went to a school of photography and I worked as a photographer at a young age. It felt like it was almost the right moment in my life to meet together on one hand the acting that is very important for me and the visual vision of the photography, basically, which is a movie really. So I thought it was almost necessary that I wanted to write a story and go into directing, so this is how it all started.

How has the photography and your own background combined with the influence of the directors you've worked with?

I mean directors are like most human beings, they're very different, very diverse one from another: a woman from a man; a woman from a woman; a man from a man; different identities; different nationalities, because I've worked almost all over the world. What is really interesting, when I get to know a director, is to be able to understand the vision he has behind his movie, the way he wants to tell his story, which comes back to the photography. Then how would he film it, and just what I'm interested in most is how his vision and mine would meet to create the story that he wants to tell.

You've said that you want to work with ["The Syrian Bride" and "Lemon Tree" director] Eran Riklis again, do you have a project in mind?

We have, we're thinking about it, but we do have, yes.

I've read that for your next feature project as director, which you're working on at the moment, you're not yet sure if you're going to take on an acting role. Are you more drawn towards direction now?

No, I think both work at the same time. I mean I do have a lot of jobs as an actress which really gives me little time to be able to concentrate on the writing, but I do have a project that is just started being written, and I would love to direct it, but you know as an actress I can do three/four movies a year, but as a director I need always go through the classical process of the writing, the fundraising, putting the dates together, the cast, everything that as a director takes much more time than with an actor.

Has fundraising been easy for you in the past?

To be honest with you yes: it has been, really it has been. For the two shorts it was very easy, and for the feature I didn't even wait long, so that's the truth of it.

[Ghazi Albuliwi, writer-director-star of "Peace After Marriage," joined the conversation at this point]

Ghazi: Which short film are you talking about, the bread one [Le Pain]? You have to see her shorts, they're amazingly shot, they've very great stories, they're very interesting.

How did you come to cast Hiam in "Peace After Marriage"?

Ghazi: The first time I saw her was in "Lemon Tree"… no I saw you in "The Visitor" first and then I saw you in "Lemon Tree," because I was trying to figure out who could play my mom.

"Peace After Marriage"
"Peace After Marriage"

So you had the script already written when you met Hiam?

Ghazi: Yeah, I wrote the script first, and it's a really interesting role for her, cos she doesn't usually get comedies, so it's good for people to be able to see her in a different light. She's very funny in real life. I think people see this serious person, they kind of think she's always the face of Palestinian acting. But it was an underwritten role, so then me and Hiam kind of developed it together so what we see on the screen is really kind of… a great thing. And I learned a lot from that process, how a great actor can really change the dynamics of what we did. When it's not on the page, it's a very rare thing.

Hiam: Especially a man director…

Ghazi: What does that mean?

Hiam: Oh, nothing…

Ghazi: You should write that she's very difficult to work with on set. It's subtle with her, it's very subtle. She's a classy diva, I call her, very classy: she's not Judy Garland, where she's drinking her head off and throwing shit, she's… no, she's great, she's actually such a professional. Now I compare all the actors, so I tend not to be able to work with a lot of actors, because she's so easy, she's incredible. You would expect her to have something, because she's done so many movies and she's well-known and she's very good but she really… she's like a soldier, and I kind of like that. It's why we keep working together I guess.

Hiam: Well he'd love to, but I'm thinking about it…

This article is related to: Hiam Abbass, Lemon Tree, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Interviews, Features