NEW YORK (Reuters) - Julian Schnabel, maker of films such as “Basquiat”, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Before Night Falls”, says his latest film is the one he most wants people to see and could be his last.
In the film, “Miral,” starring Freida Pinto and set to open in the United States on Friday, Schnabel tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by adapting the semi-autobiographical book of the same name by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist who grew up in east Jerusalem.
The film has had some positive outcomes for Schnabel, 59, who is Jewish. It recently scored a PG-13 rating and Jebreal, 37, is now his girlfriend. But the film received a lackluster response at film festivals last year and has been reedited.
Schnabel, a director and painter, talked to Reuters about the story of three generations of Palestinian women and the backlash by some U.S. Jewish groups who consider it anti-Israeli.
Q. Is the film’s subject a career killer or courageous?
A. “Is this courageous? It’s natural and a normal thing to do. Somebody once said to me I was brave or the way that I was painting was brave, I didn’t know how to do it another way, I don’t think I am brave.”
Q. Describe the storyline in your words?
A. ”I am telling the story through the point of view of a 16-year-old Palestinian girl and it’s really a movie about women and how women are the recipient of the largest difficulties in the middle of a conflict.
“I think what is good for the Palestinians is actually good for Israelis and I think we need to take care of each other. Like my daughter Lola says, ‘We are all pink inside.'”
Q. Why tell a Palestinian perspective?
A. ”This person doesn’t represent all Palestinian people. The fact is if you watch the movie there are different Palestinian people. One person is a terrorist. One guy is a religious guy. He is an Imam that is a peaceful man. One person is an activist. One is a teacher
“My daughter, Stella, plays the Israeli girl Lisa. If you left the future to Lisa and Miral, you would be much better off than leaving it to the people that are in power.”
Q. Can you respond to criticism from some Jewish groups?
“When people say it is one-sided, it is about a Palestinian family told from the point of view of a Palestinian girl. Interesting that an American-Jewish director, living in New York City, whose mother was the president of Hadassah, would do that because I think that adds to the credibility and problematic resistance. And that is part of why I did it.”
Q. How do you think American audiences will respond?
“There will be people questioning themselves and I think it is all good. I have never made a film that I wanted people to see as much, that I thought needed to see the film as much.”
Q. Why was a PG-13 rating important to you?
”This is a movie made about a 16-year-old and a 16-year-old should be able to see that instead of just looking at the newspaper and reading this racist stuff.
“We as Jewish people have been the recipients of so much negativity that more than anyone I think that we should understand the Palestinians. And I think actually, we do.”
Q. Why don’t many American filmmakers tackle this topic?
A. “Most directors probably need the job. And don’t want to get blackballed. People don’t want to get fired for supporting something that might not be popular. Personally, I don’t need to get hired. I don’t care. I am not looking for a job. If people don’t want to make any more movies with me, it’s fine. I don’t even know that I am going to make another movie.”
“So people say, don’t buy the guy’s paintings cause he made this movie? I don’t think that will happen.”
Q. Do you hope this movie is shown in Israel?
“I showed it to the mayor of Jerusalem and he said he would have a screening in Jerusalem. He thought that people would feel uncomfortable on both sides, but he felt like it was honest. It’s hard to put up a mirror sometimes.”
Q. You’re really not intending to make another film?
A. No, I don‘t. It is not a career. I am painting right now. And that is what I want to do. I am fine making paintings. And my ecstasy is occurring when I am putting resin on something or selecting what material to work with. Because it (art) is beyond logic, and all this explaining is tedious.”
Editing by Patricia Reaney