Omar, the new feature film by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), was honored at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival last weekend.
The film, which uses a tragic love story to illustrate how Israel’s occupation strains Palestinian society, was awarded a jury prize for the Un Certain Regard section of the festival which recognizes young talent and innovative work.
According to Variety, Omar “was made almost entirely with Palestinian money, sourced by a grassroots effort headed by Waleed Zuaiter, a Hollywood actor (The Men Who Stare at Goats) who served as both thesp and producer on the project.”
“We reached out to everyone [for funding],” says Zuaiter, who was born in California and raised in Kuwait by Palestinian parents. “Like, if you were one-eighth Palestinian, we came to you; for us, there were no borders.” Together with his two brothers, businessmen with strong inroads to the Palestinian business community, Zuaiter and the Omar team drummed up the $2 million needed to finance the film, which was shot in the West Bank and the Israeli-Arab town of Nazareth late last year.
For more information about Omar see the film’s Facebook page.
Omar wasn’t the only Palestinian film selected for the Cannes festival. Condom Lead, by twin brothers Ahmed and Mohamed Abu Nasser, who go by Tarzan and Arab, was an official selection for the short film competition. Condom Lead was the first-ever Palestinian short film competition entry at Cannes (two other Palestinian short films, Annemarie Jacir’s Like Twenty Impossibles (2003) and Sameh Zoabi’s Be Quiet (2006) were previously official selections of the Cinéfondation competition at Cannes.)
Tarzan described Condom Lead in an interview with the Doha Film Institute’s Reem Saleh:
Condom Lead is a film parody of Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli-led first war in the Gaza Strip in 2008. It was the fiercest military attack of all time. Our film is not about the war on Gaza, but rather about wars everywhere, since they all have the same consequences. We tried to work on a general level. The condom is used here as a symbol of protection; sometimes its purpose is to indicate the search for love and security, which is so severely affected by wars. We might say that the message behind the film is simply, Stop waging wars and let us live in peace.
The film was shot on one day and made on a shoestring budget, according to Variety:
The Abu Nassers [Tarzan and Arab] made their 15-minute film for less than 5,000 Jordanian dinar ($7,057). It has zero dialogue and shows a married couple trying, and failing, for intimacy during the 2009 Israeli offensive, dubbed Operation Cast Lead. The pic was shot in a single day in an Amman house loaned by a friend, with cut-rate equipment and with producers doubling as actors.
In related news, former Cannes festival jury member Elia Suleiman (The Time that Remains), one of Palestine’s leading filmmakers, has been hired to the newly-created position of artistic advisor to the Doha Film Festival.
Author’s note: this post has been updated to state that two other Palestinian short films have been previously selected for the Cannes film festival before Condom Lead.