Miral is the final film in the Julian Schnabel: Artist Director Retrospective. This Friday, director Julian Schnabel will introduce Miral for its Minneapolis premiere and engage in an audience Q & A immediately following the screening. Saturday, Julian will sit down with Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander for a Regis Dialogue.
Following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Miral has toured festivals, and is scheduled to screen tonight at the United Nations General Assembly. But this film is dealing with material so controversial that the Israeli delegation has stepped in to try to stop the screening. Upset by its portrayal of Israel, deputy chief of Israel’s delegation to the UN Haim Waxman called it “a clearly political and one-sided film, which advances the Palestinian agenda…it is difficult to understand the intolerable ease with which the decision was made to screen a commercial film in the General Assembly hall–something which in itself is unusual and unacceptable.” Waxman continued, insisting that this film brings the “central stage, again, to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which already receives too much attention at the UN.”
Despite their complaints, the General Assembly president, Swiss diplomat Joseph Deiss, has denied requests to cancel the screening saying that the film tells a story about peace. Rula Jebrael (the film’s screenwriter and author of the book that the film is based on) responded, saying “Miral is a story about human beings, Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and it is a film about love, education, understanding and peace. ” Schnabel, said of the film, “Obviously it’s a Palestinian story, but it’s very important that an American Jewish person tell a Palestinian story.”
Harvey Weinstein, a producer and distributer of Miral has been defending this project since he signed on to distribute it, appearing on CNN with Piers Morgan and elsewhere. In response to criticism, Weinstein said “The simple answer is if you don’t tell the story from both sides, you will never understand…I know you’re not supposed to be political, but you can’t exist in this world if you aren’t.” He continued in a later interview, saying “As a Jewish American, I can categorically state that I would not be releasing a film that was flagrantly biased towards Israel or Judaism. Miral tells a story about a young Palestinian woman, but that does not make it a polemic. By stifling discussion or pre-judging a work of art, we only perpetuate the prejudice that does so much harm.”
The UN Israeli delegation is not the only group trying to stop this film, either, with involvement from such groups as the American Jewish Committee, who wrote a letter urging Deiss to cancel tonight’s screening of the film.
As a staff member in the Walker Film/Video department and a Jewish American myself, I can’t help but feel entangled in this debate. With renewed Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, and increasing condemnation from the UN and the world, a film bringing attention to the issue is not the problem. The problem is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be cured by censoring discussion.
This controversy is reminiscent of another notoriously controversial film showing at the Walker next month. Negatives were almost burned and screenings were almost canceled because of the political content of this other film, but the director had this to say:
And, then, the mistake that Schafer made was not to believe me when I made the best showmanship suggestion I’ve ever made, which was that Citizen Kane should be run in tents all over America, advertised as “This is the film that we can’t run in your local movie house.” If we’d done that, we would have made $5 million with it.
—Orson Welles, This is Orson Welles, Harper Collins, 1992
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