24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Middle East

[Updated] 'Miral' courts controversy ahead of its U.S. premiere at the United Nations

March 14, 2011 | 11:53 am

Monday night's U.S. premiere of "Miral," director Julian Schnabel's film tracking a young Palestinian girl's relationship with terrorism and Israel following the 1948 war for Israeli independence, has encountered a wave of controversy, with the American Jewish Committee calling on the U.N. General Assembly president to cancel its screening at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The American Jewish Committee believes the film portrays Israel negatively. In a letter to the world body, AJC Executive Director David Harris said showing the film in the U.N. General Assembly hall "will only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment in the U.N." 

Schnabel, an American Jew, along with the film's Jewish-American distributor, Harvey Weinstein, are rejecting the charges of bias and have invited AJC representatives to Monday's premiere.  "We are surprised and saddened that the American Jewish Committee would prejudge 'Miral' and move to block the showing of the film," said the movie's producer Jon Kilik. "We made this film in order to encourage the very dialogue that the AJC seems to want to prevent. We hope the AJC will come to the premiere instead of trying to cancel it."

Schnabel, who shot the movie in Jerusalem and the West Bank, added, "I love the state of Israel. I believe in it, and my film is about preserving it, not hurting it. Understanding is part of the Jewish way, and Jewish people are supposed to be good listeners. But if we don't listen to the other side, we can never have peace."

"Miral" is based on the autobiographical novel of Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal and stars "Slumdog Millionaire" actress Freida Pinto. The film centers on Miral, who grew up, like Jebreal, in an orphanage in East Jerusalem that was founded by a wealthy Palestinian woman. The film traces the two women's lives from the beginnings of the orphanage to the Oslo peace accords in 1993. The film played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals last year.

According to AJC spokesman Kenneth Bandler, no one from the AJC will attend the U.N. premiere, which they believe is the first film to be screened in the main hall of the general assembly. (The documentary "Sergio," about former U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq, screened at the headquarters several years ago.)

[Update: AJC's representative in Italy, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, saw "Miral" in Venice last September and reviewed it here for the Jerusalem Post.

Jean-Victor Nkolo, spokesman for the president of the General Assembly, confirmed that Joseph Deiss, the president of the General Assembly, saw the film a few months ago during a private screening. "He liked it and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long," Nkolo said. He said that hosting a premiere at the United Nations was not such an unusual occurrence, though he was unable to name another film that had premiered at the headquarters. "We see screenings here as a venue," he added. "The film has to defend itself. It's a work of art."

Following the screening Monday night, Dan Rather is to moderate a panel discussion featuring Schnabel, Jebreal, journalist Mona Eltahawy and Yonatan Shapira, co-founder of Combatants for Peace and a former captain in the Israeli Air Force Reserves, who in 2003 organized a group of pilots who refused to fly attack missions on Palestinian territories. Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, will also be part of the conversation.]

"Miral" will bow in U.S. theaters on March 25. The ratings board of the Motion Picture Assn. of America  granted it a PG-13 rating last week on appeal over its initial R rating for violent content, including the depiction of sexual assault.

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Freida Pinto and Omar Metwally in Julian Schnabel's 'Miral.' Credit: Jose Haro/the Weinstein Co.


'Miral' director confounded by ideological criticisms

Rating for 'Miral' goes from R to PG-13

With 'Miral,' Harvey Weinstein jumps into the Israeli-Palestinian fray

June 8, 2010 | 11:20 am

It almost seems so perfect, it's a wonder it hadn't happened already.

Provocative filmmaker Julian Schnabel, taking on a provocative subject, will again be working with industry  provocateur Harvey Weinstein.

MiralThe Weinstein Co. announced this morning that it would domestically distribute "Miral," Schnabel's film about the founding of a Palestinian orphanage in 1948 and the evolution of a young Palestinian woman at the dawn of the first intifada. (Rula Jebreal adapted the screenplay from her own novel, which is partly inspired by true events.)

Schnabel had previously worked with the new Miramax, which released his "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" to Oscar acclaim in 2007, but goes back to his roots with this film: Harvey (in a very different time) released Schnabel's directorial debut, "Basquiat," in 1996.

With Freida Pinto as the lead, "Miral" examines the founding of the Dar Al-Tifel Institute orphanage for Palestinian refugees in 1948, and then flashes forward to Pinto's character, who was raised in the orphanage, as a young woman in the early 1990s, when she goes to work in a refugee camp, where she is caught in a quandary between violent and peaceful means of resistance. It's probably the most mainstream film project to take a Palestinian point of view on the genesis and modern aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"As a staunch supporter of Israel I thought this would be a movie I would have a hard time wrapping my head around," Weinstein said in a statement. "However, meeting Rula moved me to open my heart and mind, and I hope we can do the same with audiences worldwide.”

Reports from Movieline and others have focused on the irony of Weinstein, an an "Israel loyalist," picking up the film. The coverage is a little perplexing -- Harvey certainly isn't known as a staunch pro-Palestinian advocate, but it's not like he's out there on the AIPAC front lines (he is, however, a heat-seeking missile when it comes to topical and buzz-worthy movies).

Still, Schnabel and Weinstein, both well-known as strong personalities, should have some interesting debates in the cutting room and at the marketing meetings. Given the stubbornness of their visions, there may be fireworks worthy of, well, a Middle Eastern conflict.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The "Miral" book jacket. Credit: Penguin Books

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