British-Palestinian filmmaker Basil Khalil uses humor to make sense of conflict over a weekend in Gaza [Exclusive Interview]

I was at the premiere here at the festival. The audience was so big, so reactive. How did it feel?

This is the right place to show this movie because it is a crowd pleaser. It’s not a high-concept, arthouse, preachy film for upper-middle-class intellectuals to talk about and signal their alertness by caring about the misery of others. I will say that the movie deals with difficult topics, but it is done in an approachable way and also entertains you for 90 minutes, right? It’s quite a struggle to get a movie in theaters when you’re up against streamers and major Marvel movies. But I’ve always wanted to entertain people, so I hope when people go back to the cinema, or wherever they see it, they feel that it’s not a wasted 90 minutes or a 90-minute lecture.

I thought as I watched the film that this may be many Canadians and Americans’ first introduction to Palestinians who are not suffering and crying or militant and threatening. This may be the first time they see people in Gaza just doing their job, making money, laughing, raising children.

Which is embarrassing that we have to make a movie to show normal people. But I also understand that this is the world we live in. You know, everybody has their bubble and their life and it’s the loudest voice that gets the attention, and at the moment we Palestinians are not the loudest voice. I was also inspired by ‘Get Out’ and ‘Nope’ and how they were genres, they were entertaining films, had a very strong motive, with a very clear issue to address, but that wasn’t what the film was about. Like, I walked out of “No” just blown away by the artistry and the storytelling. People feel it, they feel when you preach to them, and they get it for free from the news, right?

Right. And obviously there is no shortage of films being made in Palestine or by Palestinians, and so often you get these depictions of misery and suffering. Where does it come from? Are western buyers only interested in these movies? Festivals that do not program other types of films?

There are so many factors. I don’t know all of them, but I know that, like I have my colleagues who make films and some of them are cheerful and some of them are painful, and that’s because the trauma is not over. That’s the thing about Palestine – the trauma lasts. So either artists have this burning fire to share, to make people look at the injustice that’s happening—and it’s valid and should happen and should be documented—and there are others, like me, who come from a mixed heritage. So my mother is English and Irish, my father is Palestinian, and I can look at it from the outside, let’s say from a Westerner’s point of view, who doesn’t want to go to the cinema to feel guilty. It’s a very colonial mindset. Like, “We made a mess, we don’t want to talk about it.” But I have the privilege of being able to distance myself from the weight of the baggage of the collective trauma that is still ongoing.

My co-author [Daniel Chan] is not from there, he is Portuguese, Chinese and British. So he was also able to tell me, “Okay, this joke or this scene or this guy is too local. Let’s make it understandable. I want to get at this problem. How do we get there?” So I managed to keep the Palestinian sense of humor so that other Palestinians could laugh at it and find it funny and entertaining and see themselves in it, and a foreigner who has no idea could find another way and another gag but also understand the message.

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