Guy Davidi is famous as the co-director, along with Emad Burnat, of 5 Broken Cameras, the wrenching story of the village of Bil’in taking on the monstrous Israeli occupation. The film was nominated for an Oscar last year, gaining international attention for a portrait of Palestinian endurance and humor in the face of slaughter and dispossession. Emad Burnat and his family went to Hollywood from Bil’in, and had trouble getting into the U.S.
5 Broken Cameras had funding from leading Israeli institutions, which prompted some boycott calls against the film; but Davidi can’t get any such funding for his latest project, a portrait of a rebel acting teacher in Tel Aviv in the midst of the Cast Lead assault on Gaza five years ago. The film is called Mixed Feelings, and is scheduled to come out next year, and Davidi is going to Indiegogo to try and get the last $30,000 he needs for the movie, to cover editing costs. (He is halfway to his goal.)
I spoke with Davidi by phone in Denmark, where he is staying with his girlfriend, about the cultural and political climate inside Israel. He lost institutional support, he said, when he made statements in favor of boycott.
“During the Oscar race, I spoke about boycott being a possible way to confront occupation, and Limor Livnat [the country’s culture minister] said that artists should censor themselves. She said, ‘Come on filmmakers you should stop speaking out.'” Livnat’s statement caused outrage in the artistic community, but add her censure to the fact that Davidi supported boycott of a Jewish film festival in London and of the Toronto film festival because the Israeli Foreign Ministry was sponsoring those fetes and his ticket was punched as far as funding from film and television sponsors in Israel. He has had to get funding from European countries.
It has been reported in Israel that Davidi favors a cultural boycott, but Davidi says he stops short of such an endorsement. He thinks cultural boycott is a gray area, because he says it serves the Israeli right, which feeds off of isolation and shaming; he says that boycott should focus on economic links between Israel and Europe.
Davidi’s latest film is focused on the “cultural resistance” of a renegade artist during Cast Lead. Amir Orian was once a popular Israeli actor, but he withdrew from the Israeli mainstream and started a theater school, and he has been harsh in his judgments of Israeli society. The movie focuses on a production of No Exit, the Jean-Paul Sartre play. The actors in Orian’s production are veterans of the Israeli army, and they become uncomfortable as Orian makes connections between the Nazis and Vichy French who were Sartre’s target and the Israeli political culture that so overwhelmingly favors the Gaza massacre. Davidi:
Amir’s not supportive of the wars of Israel, and during the war he’s objecting to the war and he’s in shock, actually like I was. There was a huge massacre actually. We don’t call it a war, but a massacre of Palestinians, and Amir was in shock. Suddenly there was a debate between Amir, who didn’t stop saying what he thought in front of his students, and the students. They were young, nationalistic, very supportive of the war. So there was a clash.
The question is whether the artist can speak out his opinions, whether a teacher should express his opinions against the war. Amir encourages students not to do military serice. He works on a piece where he would play the character of Hitler, and it’s a very provocative piece. He speaks about how disturbed Israeli society becomes, and that is very tough for the students and they object to him expressing the opinions.
The film goes on to the stage a lot of the time. It reveals the true characters of the actors, their frustrations, their anger, their own oppression in Israeli society, and in many cases their aggressiveness. This gives a life to the discussion that are part of the film.
Davidi said that his own cultural status inside Israel now is “zero.” He won international acclaim, but he is considered a radical.
The cultural context, if you express this kind of opinion in Israel you pay a big price. Just in the recent war, a very well-known comedian, very much loved, who never speaks out politically, she spoke a little about the war, that she is not happy with it– nothing very radical from my perspective– and people just jumped over her. How she can say this? Her name is Orna Banai, and after two or three days she apologized for what she said and said she wasn’t aware, and it wasn’t true– she backed out completely. That is the atmosphere in Israel. When you just say you’re not happy with the war, in Israel’s climate today you are marked, and people pay a price for that.
Here is that Banai story: a popular comedian, she was fired as a “spokeswoman for an Israeli cruise ship operator” when she expressed sadness that in Gaza “Palestinian women and children were being killed”
Davidi readily agrees that Palestinians pay a much bigger price for resistance than leftwing Israelis do. I was in Bil’in a couple of weeks ago and talked to Emad Burnat as teargas canisters fell nearby. I asked Davidi about the fact that his co-director is still attending demonstrations against the occupation to try and free his village while he is in Europe working on the next film. “Yes, I’m still an Israeli, and I have the privileges of an Israeli, and I’m also coming from a different social background.”
Davidi says it was a major bureaucratic undertaking just to get Burnat permission to enter Israel during the production and promotion of 5 Broken Cameras.
As for his own politics, Davidi says that it is hard to imagine a successful partition of Israel and Palestine or a successful integration of the two societies. He believes that the two peoples will ultimately have to come up with a hybrid one-state juridical structure in which the two will work together.
But the latest Israeli initiative, a law defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, leaves Davidi bleak about his own future in Israel. “I don’t know what the future is going to be for this country. But it doesn’t matter for me whether I’m in Denmark or some other place, my work is connected to Israel and Palestine.”
His next project, Davidi says, is going to be about the Israeli military. “It’s harder and harder to believe there’s going to be change in Israeli society,” he says. “But it’s not something I’m willing to give up.”