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Date posted: July 31, 2003
By MIFTAH

The Palestinians have not been particularly well-known for their filmmaking in the past. But with the release of “Divine Intervention” that is all beginning to change. This 2002 movie shook the film world with its surreal imagery, subtle storytelling style, and powerful underlying political message.

Director and star of “Divine Intervention,” Elia Suleiman was born in Nazareth in 1960. Suleiman was working for minimum wage at a clippings library in New York when he began schooling himself in cinema. Between 1981 and 1984 his love of cinema, raw talent and determination blossomed, earning Suleiman recognition and invitations to lecture at New York universities, art institutions and museums. He returned to Palestine in 1994, where he established a film and media department at Birzeit University near Ramallah. In 1996 Suleiman was granted the Best Film Prize at the Venice Film Festival for the film “Chronicle of a Disappearance.” He was beginning to make a name for himself when he starred and directed in the widely acclaimed “Divine Intervention,” a dark but comic masterpiece highlighting the hardships of Palestinian daily life under Israeli occupation. The film has garnered Suleiman comparisons to the work of film greats Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton.

Reflecting on his film in an interview for the UK web site Kamera, Suleiman said: “There was a lot of self-searching when I approached this film but I found myself coming back to what I consider basic values that long ago I shied away from because I considered them too simplistic. The relationship between the moment of truth that you capture and the moment of truth that the spectator captures is incredible. This is what I consider the godliness of communication. I still don't fully understand and I prefer not to analyse it, the notion that, given that we are not living in any form of uniformity, how is it that between Palestine, Norway and the United States people are laughing at exactly the same moment in the film?”

“Divine Intervention” is the first Palestinian film to have made it to the Cannes Festival in Paris, where it reeled in the Jury Prize award. “Divine Intervention” went on to win the Screen International Award at the European Film Awards in which it competed against blockbusters such as Steven Spielberg's “Minority Report” and Roman Polanski's “The Pianist.” The film managed to attract close to 30,000 spectators in France alone in the first week. “Divine Intervention” also received the Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival and made an appearance at the New York Film Festival, where it received positive reviews even from the toughest critics, including the New York Times. After touring Europe the film is now airing in cinemas all throughout the United States and Canada, including the prestigious Angelika Film Center in Manhattan. By the end of this year, it will have taken part in over 15 film festivals throughout the United States and Canada.

Unfortunately, the film has also faced obstacles. When the producer of the film, Humbert Balsam, spoke with (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) AMPAS' executive director Davis Bruce in October 2002, he was told that the film from Palestine would not be eligible to compete in the Academy Awards. "As the producer of Divine Intervention, he [Balsan] asked the Academy if the film could run for best foreign language picture. The answer of the Academy was no, Palestine is not a state we recognize in our rules." However, AMPAS' published rules make no mention of the requirement that a country needs a particular status to qualify, and there is little doubt that the rejection of the film by the Academy was politically motivated.

Nonetheless, “Divine Intervention” is the 17th most visited movie website, and Time Magazine has ranked the movie the seventh best picture of the year. Time’s description sums up the film well: “Divine Intervention is the rare minimalist film that is as funny as it is elegantly spare. But just try keeping up with the explosive changes in tone. Farce mixes with fatalism — and fatalities. This is, after all, Palestine.”

Read More ...

By: G. Dunkel
Date: 29/09/2004
By: MIFTAH
Date: 31/07/2003
By: Dalia Habash
Date: 31/07/2003

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