Festival de Cannes
18e L'Atelier 2022
Beza Hailu Lemma
The Last Tears of the Deceased
May 7, 2022
Palestinian filmmaker Ihab Jadallah has worked as Ass. Director on several feature films, like Salt of This Sea by Annemarie Jacir. His feature script Dead Sea was selected for Binger Filmlab, won the TorinoFilmLab Training Award and Amiens Screenplay Dev. Fund Award. Ihab co-founded Aanat films, where he is creating a platform for a new generation of filmmakers, with the intention of developing edgy projects in search of the new wave of Palestinian Cinema.
Hi Ihab, it's great to talk to you, how's everything going?
Thanks for reaching out, hopefully everything will be fine.
What does it mean to be at L'Atelier 2022 with your film project Awdah?
It means a lot, first of all, it’s a recognition that the script is in a pretty good shape and it’s time to find partners who would like to join us on our journey to bring to light this film.
How important are this opportunity like L’Atelier for filmmakers?
It’s very important; L’Atelier offers an opportunity for filmmakers to be exposed to the financing world. Here at Cannes Film Festival, filmmakers find themselves at the heart of the film industry in Europe and the world.
After you graduated in AudioVisual Communication in Valencia, Spain you completed a 3-year scholarship in Filmmaking at the Catalunya Cinematographic Studies Center here in Barcelona. How much did these experiences help prepare you for making your move into the film industry?
Completing my film studies helped me become a filmmaker in the first place, I wasn’t exposed to the industry but was exposed to a lot of films, and I believe that this is mainly my role as a filmmaker. As for getting my film project into the film industry it requires a lot of hard work on the script and exposing it to the right people.
Can you tell me a little bit about Awdah, what was the inspiration behind the screenplay?
The trigger is a very personal story, I had my own father in Israeli prison for political reasons and the absence of my father was a period that marked my childhood, and becoming a father also inspired me, but again with so many drafts the script has been influenced by multiple sources of inspiration, the film takes place in my own city of Jerusalem, our contradictive lives under occupation influence our personal and intimate space, Awdah is about a family that needs to come together even if this means sacrificing their principals.
How different is this film, in terms of story and style, to your previous films?
This is a very different script; it’s more personal, and more adult, more emotional, less political. The story asks for a different style and tone, a more realistic aesthetic nearly as if I am being asked to make an Italian neorealist film. But again most Palestinian films are neorealist, since we don’t have the infrastructure of big studios and the landscape, the city of Jerusalem is an integral part of this film, it’s another character in the film. To be more specific I believe that the characters dictate the visual style, Amal has a dynamic character and should be portrayed as such, meanwhile Ibrahim is coming out of prison, very weary and cautious about the surrounding, also very suspicious, this also determines what kind of visual tone he should have.
What are some of the main challenges you face when you are starting a new film?
Starting a new film is very different from starting a new script, writing is a more personal space where the only judge is oneself, and subjectively speaking its your mental state at that day, whether you actually like what you write or simply think its crap, but starting a new film in my experience its always the financial part, I have three or four scripts that I would love to shoot, but financing them is a complete different story.
How flexible do you allow yourself with your screenplay?
I am very flexible, sometimes too much, which can lead to hybrid script with a mashup genre, but in general I am not afraid of rewrites or completely changing story from one draft to another, Awdah is a completely different story from what is was in the early drafts, but what lingered all through this time is the characters, they have been living with me since. I also allow myself to collaborate with Co-writers I believe it’s a healthier environment, I am used to going to labs, I have done the Sundance writer’s and Director’s lab with this script, and there I found a writing partner that I am really happy to be working with.
Image: Baya'a el ward (2017)
"Being a writer-director is like wearing two hats sometimes I am thinking a certain scene sounds amazing when I read it, but then in the actual production an adjustment should be made to adapt to the reality."
What makes Palestinian film so unique and for anyone wanting to explore the wealth of Palestinian films/filmmakers do you have any you could recommend?
I think Palestinian films are unique because we have a just cause and a story to tell, we need to bring our narrative to the world, and the world needs to hear our story. I recommend Tawfiq Abu Wael to me, he is one of the greatest Palestinian filmmakers nowadays, he brings truly interesting and honest stories, he has a unique style and a great actor’s director, I have learnt a lot from him, and I cannot wait for his next film or series.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Pushing the boundaries is necessary otherwise we will be self-limiting and we don't want that, the film industry can be sometimes limiting to Palestinian filmmakers, the expectations of what kind of film should be coming out of Palestine, or made by a Palestinian filmmaker is already limiting, so we don’t want to limit ourselves as well, I think we should keep the challenge and explore the taboos but without disrespecting the audience, after all cinema is meant for the people before the festivals and critics.
How much does your background as a writer and actor help guide your film projects as a director?
Actually I am not an actor, I just happen to be working as an AD on certain films, and as I breakdown the script there are small roles and characters that I like and choose to play, but I am not actor.
Being a writer-director is like wearing two hats sometimes I am thinking a certain scene sounds amazing when I read it, but then in the actual production an adjustment should be made to adapt to the reality. Being the writer makes me know the material so well, when talking to my actors it’s easy for me to tell them what’s the scene is about, and it’s easy for me to accept any suggestion from my actors if I feel their suggestion improves the scene or makes it easier for them to play it out.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Since I was 16 years old, I kept skipping school and going to watch films, I saw all the American films, and that’s how it all started, but again Israeli TV used to broadcast all kind of French, Russian, Polish and Turkish films on Saturday’s in a nonstop manner, this also exposed me to world cinema. After the 1st Intifada, I understood that the streets were no good for me and cinema houses became my refuge.
Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?
Yes, “Don’t dance faster than the music” I believe I deserve to have done a film many years ago, but it never happened, I was dancing faster than the music, everything has a time, a rhythm, we just need to do our part and things should come together. If they don’t then it’s not mean to be.
For the next generation of filmmakers what key advice or tips could you offer them?
I would say find that original and authentic voice inside you, conformism is an easy trap.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Awdah when they see it?
Above all Awdah is a love story, I really want people to feel the love and hope for coming together of Ibrahim and Amal, it’s a story of Ibrahim coming out of Israeli prison to his wife Amal and his son Yousef, after all occupation can affect our intimate lives, and being able to retrieve love is an act of resistance in itself.
L’Atelier hosts its eighteenth edition this year and will invite to the Festival de Cannes 16 directors whose projects have been considered particularly promising. Together with their producers, they will be able to meet potential partners, a necessary step to finish their project and start the making of their film. L’Atelier provides its participants access to international co-productions, thus accelerating the film’s completion.