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Sunday, February 25, 2007

'West Bank Story' may win an Oscar

An Israeli entry called 'West Bank Story' is one of five finalists in the "best Short Film - Live Action" category at the Oscars tonight in Los Angeles. The film sounds like a humorous but hopelessly naive view of the situation here:
West Bank Story, one of five nominees for best Short Film - Live Action, is 21 minutes long and taglined "A little singing, a little dancing, a lot of hummus." The title is a riff on Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, which is a musical takeoff on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In this case, though, the confrontation is between competing West Bank falafel stands, the Israeli Kosher King and the Palestinian Humous Hut.

Their weapons are falafel and humous (made from chickpeas with seasonings), folded into a pita, the soul food loved by all Middle East factions.

Into this delectable mix stir David, a handsome Israeli soldier, and the beautiful Fatima, who works at the Hummus Hut, and you can probably figure out the basic plot line.

Amidst catchy tunes, finger-snapping dancing, and a mugging camel, David and Fatima fall in love. After both eating establishments are set on fire, the lovers persuade the rival owners to join hands and hummus to feed their hungry customers.
Sounds like a dream alright. The film already has quite a history:
West Bank premiered at Sundance in 2005 and got a warm response. Next came a screening in Jerusalem. With two-thirds of his goal fulfilled, Sandel wrote an impassioned letter to the Dubai Film Festival and to his amazement, the film was accepted in a category labeled "Bridging Cultures."

"The Dubai festival is sort of a Middle Eastern Sundance, only you get much more of a VIP treatment," Sandel told The Jerusalem Post. Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, is a rapidly modernizing city, but officially no Jews live there and no one had ever shown a movie depicting an Israeli soldier as anything other than a bloodthirsty killer.

So when West Bank screened in Dubai's biggest venue before 1,000 Arab dignitaries and movie producers, Sandel was understandably nervous.

The post-film Q&A session started badly. One Arab rose to protest that the film failed to portray the suffering of the Palestinian people, and half the audience applauded. Another man was unhappy with the lack of scenes depicting Israeli brutality.

Finally a woman stood up, identified herself as an Arab refugee from Gaza, said she loved the movie and asked how she could get a copy for her friends and relatives.

With such a Palestinian imprimatur on the record, the audience turned friendly and the evening was deemed a considerable success.
Somehow I think that the initial reaction in Dubai is much closer to the likely reaction in Gaza City - if they go to the movies there at all.



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