VENICE (Reuters) - The lives of four Arab-Israeli women spanning three generations against the backdrop of conflict are at the center of "Miral," a film by Julian Schnabel based on his Palestinian partner's biographical book.
From the 1948 creation of the Jewish state to the 1993 Oslo accords that briefly raised hopes of peace in the Middle East, the film has a clear political message and points to the role of education in bridging ethnic, religious and political divides.
Screening in competition at the Venice film festival, it is an adaptation of a 2003 book by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian who grew up in east Jerusalem and later moved to Italy where she became the first foreign anchor woman for the evening news.
Schnabel, an acclaimed American-Jewish painter here directing his fourth film, did not know much about Palestinian people until he read Jebreal's book and said that shooting the film with her in Israel was an eye-opening experience.
"I felt I was a pretty good person to tell the story of the other side... I am not a politician or a statesman but I can't see how an artist could do any worse than politicians have done so far," he told reporters after a press screening on Thursday.
"I don't see painting as being decorative and I don't make films necessarily as entertainment ... in order for me to make a movie it's usually I feel a responsibility to that subject and something that I'll come out to learn about myself."
Jebreal said that each story in her book is true, though she changed names and combined events and personalities.
One of the central characters is Hind Husseini, who in the late 1940s decided to set up a school to give Arab children orphaned by the conflict a better future. Still open today, her institute has been home to more than 3,000 children.
Jebreal tells her own story through Miral, played by "Slumdog Millionaire" star Freida Pinto, who ends up at Husseini's boarding school after the death of her mother.
When Miral is sent to teach at a Palestinian refugee camp, she finds herself torn between joining the Intifada or following Husseini's role model.
"It's a story of a great land and a little girl who grows up and survives this conflict simply because she has somebody who helped her, and I think there are many, many young people out there seeking and wanting this help," Jebreal said.
Schnabel, who won the best director award in Cannes and at the Golden Globes for his 2007 film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," said his mother had taught him the same values that Husseini instilled in the young Jebreal.
"One of the reasons why I made this film is that it was obvious to me that there were more similarities between these people than differences," he said.
"I felt it was my responsibility to confront this because maybe I've spent most of my life receding from going to Israel, receding from my responsibility as a Jewish person and this gave me an opportunity to protect something that my mother had spent her life trying to build."
Speaking about the importance of education to empower women, Schnabel joined an international outcry about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.
"It's the 21st century and something is wrong with that picture. I mean, that's happening as we are sitting here drinking Perrier and God knows what."
Editing by Paul Casciato