When Andoni brings the film to India next week, he hopes to be both artist and ambassador
Making Ghost Hunting was not wish fulfillment but an inner necessity for renowned Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni. He was incarcerated and interrogated by Israeli authorities as a teenager — and it’s the post-traumatic stress of this encounter that he tries to bring to fore in the film, in a straightforward, self-aware, yet disturbing way. Ghost Hunting may have started from a personal experience, but the psycho-drama eventually reflects a shared reality. “It is not just the story of a group of Palestinians but of almost the entire country. It is part of our collective memory,” Andoni tells me over the phone from Tunis.
The 94-minute-long, France-Palestine-Italy-Switzerland-Qatar co-production won the Glashütte Original Documentary Award at Berlinale 2017. The reviews ranged from describing it as ‘boldly original’ to ‘ethically problematic’. Little wonder then that it is one of the most anticipated entries this year at the 11th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala that begins in Thiruvananthapuram on July 20.
More significantly, after the festival, Andoni will also be visiting Mumbai with the film as part of an ongoing effort by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a Palestine-led movement for freedom, justice and equality, to reach out to Indian civil society (hopefully including Bollywood) to sensitise them about Palestinians and the ‘injustice they are living under’.
For Ghost Hunting, Adoni started off with the bare bones of a script — what would happen if a group of former prisoners were asked to rebuild the detention centre they had been confined in; in this case Israel’s main Al-Moskobiya interrogation centre. “[However], the imagined script could not remain the Bible,” says Andoni; the lived experiences of the real inmates (who working with him on the film) took over.
Stills from Ghost Hunting
Fragmented memories and detailed tales are shared as the cells begin to take physical shape. Soon, repressed emotions, humiliations, defeats and guilt get dredged out. For some, it leads to catharsis. “It has been eating away at me to this day,” says one former inmate, who recollects how he refused to look after his own brother in the prison and later held himself guilty for his suicide. Having spoken about it for the first time in three years, he admits feeling relieved. Another talks about using humour as a weapon, and a third thinks aloud that the whole point of a prison is to foster creativity. Others talks of the prison as death. In the bleakness, however, there is also the hope of love — the forthcoming marriage of one prisoner and his belief that he can make his own happiness.
Andoni’s works have always been a reflection of his politics. Through his documentaries he explores not just the physical colonisation but what he calls the ‘inner occupation’ of Palestinians by Israel. For him, being an artist and a political individual are not conflictual. Art, culture and politics reinforce each other: “Humaneness stands for being participative, caring, aware and for standing for justice.”
So Ghost Hunting isa deeply personal and community-oriented film, and also very political. It is real, human, emotional and asks some very pertinent questions. The Israeli flag might be visible but there is no overt rabble-rousing against it. For Andoni, Israel is all about the illegal imposition of power. “The real enemy is [this] oppression, control, authoritarianism and the injustices. It could be happening anywhere in the world — India, Africa, Sarajevo or America,” he says.
This essential humaneness compels him to support BDS. “Fighting for justice is the first step to building peace,” he says. He takes his resistance beyond his work, turning down invitations from Israel, refusing to screen his films at Israel-sponsored events.
In stark contrast, India’s Israel tilt has grown steadily since 2014. Call it political expediency, business sense or ignorance, but the Israel shift has been most visible in Bollywood. Ironic, because Palestinians devour Hindi cinema, connect with it, and love it unabashedly.
Sops to Bollywood
Early this year Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s selfie with Hindi film stars at the Shalom Bollywood event in Mumbai went viral. The Israeli charm offensive also meant sops to Bollywood for shoots in Israel. A dance number for Dharma Productions’ forthcoming Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer Drive was shot in Tel Aviv last October. In early January, filmmaker Ayan Mukerji and his lead pair — Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt — went to Israel to recce sites for another forthcoming Dharma Productions movie Brahmastra. Netanyahu and Modi signed a film co-production agreement in January.
All this is part of the ‘Brand Israel’ strategy to improve the country’s image abroad. Last December, director Imtiaz Ali went to Israel as part of a delegation of filmmakers funded by Israel’s culture, tourism and foreign ministries. In an interview to Haaretz magazine, he said: “Its true there is a conflict between Muslims and Jews, but to me this is still the Promised Land.”
Filmmaker Mira Nair, however, reacted differently. When she was invited to Israel as a guest of honour at the 2013 Haifa International Film Festival, she said: “I will go to Israel when the walls come down. I will go to Israel when occupation is gone. I will go to Israel when the state does not privilege one religion over another. I will go to Israel when apartheid is over.” Several cultural icons have taken this stand in recent times. In 2016, Oscar nominees were offered a $55,000 Israeli government-sponsored luxury trip but all 26 turned it down.
Andoni, who views the changing India-Palestine dynamics with disappointment, speaks of the long history of friendship that Palestine has had with India. BDS seeks to re-establish this through the medium of art and artists like Andoni.
Andoni believes that Palestinian cinema has thus far been led by individual efforts; 2018 will be about a collective leap. It’s the first year Palestine set up a pavilion at Marche du Cinema at Cannes. And a Palestine Film Institute is in the pipeline. “It could start a new era in Palestinian cinema and inspire the Arab world too,” says Andoni.
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