Homeland: Best Documentary Award at ADFF
interview with Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer about the making of
the documentary Homeland, which won this year's "Best
Documentary Award" at the ADFF
you call your film Homeland? Is it because you felt you
were going back home? Do you consider Lebanon to be another home
much for me, but for the Palestinians. In the film and in the world
in general, the word "homeland" is often used by Palestinians. They
talk about homeland as a concept; Mahmoud Darwish was one of the
first to do so, many years ago. I thought it was appropriate to
call the film Homeland. It's not so much my homeland, as
it's the one the Palestinians had to leave in 1948.
outlook on Palestine and the Palestinian cause comes by way of two
families who are settled in Lebanon, about whom you had already
made films in the past. Why did you choose to go back and film them
making this film I thought, if Jerusalem becomes a two-nation city,
or if a peace agreement is reached, I will close the series. But my
decision was precipitated because I had an aneurysm. I did not know
if I would live for long, and I wanted to finish this series. I
really felt I wanted to go back to see the two families. I had
become friends with these people; I'm a part of their families.
When I chose them in 1974, it was because they had the appearance
of strong people, good people who could represent the good side of
the Palestinians. At the time I felt they were mistreated and badly
handled by the Israeli government.
difficult for you to track down the members of the Jadda and Hammad
families in 2009 and 2010?
really, because I had kept contact with them over the years. I was
in Lebanon in 2006, and I went to visit the families. I always kept
in touch with both families, so it was not difficult.
approach the Palestinian cause from a very personal point of view.
Many movies have been made about the Palestinian cause, and they
approach it from a journalistic, political or ideological
standpoint. But you choose the head-on, personal way. Is this
caused by your relationship to these families? Did this format
impose itself? Or did you choose to do this film from a personal
point of view because you found that the Palestinian problem should
be approached in such a way?
say that partly it has to do with the fact that I felt very close
to the two families. So there was a kind of internal logic to be
interested… On the other hand, even if I was ill, I could still
read the news in 2008-9, and I became more and more frustrated and
angry with the Israeli government's approach to the situation in
the Middle East. I felt that there was both aggressiveness and
stupidity on the part of the Israeli government. And adding
together these two traits of character is very dangerous, because
you cannot reach any goal whatsoever, no peace, nothing. You only
go nuts, as I call it. You don't know how to deal with political
situations anymore, you start lying and telling stories, giving
wrong orders to your army and soldiers and so on… So there was that
as well: I felt I had to open my mouth to express my anger, to
support the Palestinians as much as I could, and make them talk.
Don't forget that in the beginning, the news was 100% Israeli and
0% Palestinian. There was no money and no technical means for the
Palestinians to express themselves, to provide a counter-balance to
what was written in the press by most Western newspapers. If you
take New York Times or Los Angeles Times,
London Herald or The Guardian, you discover that
the news was always slightly twisted towards the Israelis'
a piece on the news this morning about the Israeli government
asking all the inhabitants of the land to swear an oath of
allegiance to Israel. Some personalities from the world of cinema
have already reacted: Mike Leigh has cancelled a trip to Israel
because of this new law. So basically, this mistreatment has been
going on for a long time.
getting worse, in my view. Unfortunately, I'm not very optimistic.
I think, to tell you the truth, that the government and the
military have no clue what they're doing, they're lost, I would say
they've gone nuts, in a certain way, and won't listen to anybody in
the world anymore. They don't understand that they cannot hold that
position forever. It's nice to pretend that you're the only
democracy in the Middle East, but democracy can turn easily to
fascism, and that's what I smell coming up, that Israel is becoming
a very dangerous country.
shot in the film of you speaking with Sharon on his hospital bed.
You're remembering a story about your first encounter with him,
when he had shot those kids in front of you. This scene could have
gone wrong in many ways, but it doesn't. You are very careful to
show him blurred, and you escape all the possible traps that the
scene could have held. I was wondering if any parts of this film
were pre-written, if you had known in advance that you would film
tell you that nothing was pre-written, which made it very tough to
get money. Everyone nowadays wants you to write a synopsis or a
treatment or a script or something, before they give you money. I
refused because I did not want to go through what I call the
bureaucratic system. I wanted to be free and remain a filmmaker,
someone who uses his eyes and his ears, his heart and his soul, and
not have these preset situations where you film what you've
written. Everything was improvised. There are two scenes where I'm
obviously reading from a piece of paper, because my memory is not
so good, on account of my illness. If I want to say something
without making a mistake, I have to write it down for memory's
sake. It's the "black hole," as I call it, because my nervous
system has failed me. The rest is all improvised. To a certain
extent, the meeting with Father Hammad at the beginning and his
attitude towards me motivated me for the film. As for the Sharon
sequence, it has a personal side. I was there in Beirut when he was
in charge in 82-83, unfortunately. I've seen him not only kill, but
also mistreat and insult people. He was also irresponsible as an
army chief. Yes I can't say that I'm very fond of Sharon, to say
watched the animated movie Waltz with Bashir, which was
made by an Israeli filmmaker about his experience in Lebanon? And
more recently the movie Lebanon? What did you think about
seen them. I thought that Waltz with Bashir was a very
good movie. The animation struck me because it was very simple, and
at the same time very meaningful. It is not just animation,
drawings… it has a soul. I saw it a year ago, and I remember that
it made me reflect on what I was going to do.
back to your previous question, I would say Homeland was
all improvised, but I am a filmmaker, I don't film randomly. I'm
used to working with very little stock, and to think before I start
shooting. So it is improvisation, yes, but it is well thought. It's
a voluntary construction.
referring to the different quotations from the Israeli
narration of the film comes from Israeli leaders from the past
until today. It's a selection I made after reading everything I
could lay my hands on for six months. Most of it comes from Israel,
by the way, and it is not always translated into English. There are
some statements that are considered too dangerous to be officially
translated into English or French. There is a story about Barak,
when he was in Washington with Arafat… This is something new, which
is not in the film. Barak wrote in Hebrew to one of his friends in
Parliament, through the diplomatic pouch, thinking that no one
would see it… It has just come out, I read the article in
Haaretz about four weeks ago, where he makes fun of
Clinton, calls him an asshole, and says "I'm not there for peace, I
will take care that there is no peace, and that people will blame
Arafat, because we are better off with war than with peace." This
is a Barak statement, published four weeks ago, in an official
feel that the situation of the Palestinians has become worse over
the years since you first filmed in Lebanon?
don't know if it goes up and down, you know, sometimes in history
things go up and down, but at this moment I would say it's a