Palestinian, Israeli films look beyond conflict

Fri Sep 12, 2008 3:06pm EDT
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By Claire Sibonney

TORONTO (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian directors at the Toronto International Film Festival are looking past the tanks, checkpoints and bombings to find humanity in everyday people caught up in the violence.

In "Laila's Birthday," Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi explores life in an occupied territory as seen through the eyes of a judge-turned-taxi-driver named Abu Laila, and the lawlessness and chaos that surrounds him and his daughter.

The prim and proper Abu Laila sports a fastidious thin mustache and won't let people smoke or bring their AK-47s in his taxi.

But he finally unravels and grabs a bullhorn from a police officer to plead with his disrespectful neighbors and with the Israeli helicopters hovering unseen overhead.

"I want to deal with the situation but I don't want to tell again the same story that I think everybody knows or should know," Masharawi, a self-taught filmmaker who was born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp, told Reuters in an interview.

"So I decided not to touch what people are used to seeing, checkpoints and tanks and ambulances and bombings and shootings. I said I don't want to deal with this now. I want to go deeper and try to tell personal stories about us."

Masharawi, whose first feature film "Curfew" won the UNESCO award at Cannes in 1993, says the Israeli presence and conflict remains visible.

"You don't have to see them. They influence the way of the dialogue, they influence the view ... because we are occupied not only with a gun or with a tank. Sometimes it's here, sometimes it's here," he said, tapping his head and his heart.   Continued...

<p>Actor Mohamed Bakri appears in a scene from "Laila's Birthday," which debuted at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. REUTERS/Sweetwater Pictures/Handout</p>