World renowned artist Julian Schnabel made the transition to filmmaking look easy. His first movie, “Basquiat,” won a Spirit Award for Jeffrey Wright, with subsequent titles, “Before Night Falls” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfl,y” also picking up multiple nominations and awards.
His latest, “Miral,” is based on the autobiographical novel by journalist Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian raised as an orphan at Dar Al-Tifel Institute in East Jerusalem. The movie drew protests from Jewish groups when it premiered at the United Nations before an audience of diplomats and movie stars.
What did you think of the U.N. reaction?
It was spectacular. The idea that the American Jewish Committee said that they shouldn’t show the movie there without seeing the movie — that they heard that it was anti-Israeli. It’s not anti-Israeli at all. It’s pro-Israeli. It is saying, “Hey, I love this country! Let’s fix it. Let’s understand that there are people living here that have to be considered with inalienable rights just like Jewish people.”
I think that you’re not going to find a Jewish person in the United States that’s going to say black people don’t deserve to be able to vote or to be able to have the same rights as we do. We’ve gotten over that in this country. They’ve got to get over it over there.
Why this movie, now?
I hadn’t told a story from the point of view of a young girl, and the child in us is the thing you don’t want to lose. It’s the thing that makes great art. All the movies that I’ve loved — whether it was “The 400 Blows” or “Pixote” by Hector Babenco — are usually about kids. It’s harder to hate a little girl in a school uniform than a guy with a Kalashnikov in rags with a beard.
Some detractors have called it propaganda.
Did you think the “El Salvador” was propaganda? But we learned something about that struggle. I don’t think that’s propaganda.
I think of this movie as quite soft, really, in the context of what we’ve seen and what’s going on in Gaza. The level of violence is exponentially greater now than it was 10 years ago. These kids that are growing up in these refugee camps are so brutal.
There were 90 kids that tried to get into the Dar Al-Tifel school after the Gaza incursion. There used to be 300 girls there at one time, but with the wall there’re less than 100 people in that school. It doesn’t mean that there’s a shortage of orphans. You can’t get those kids in there. Their best choice is that a 55-year-old guy marries one of these 15-year-old girls or they can become prostitutes or get used as fodder and become suicide bombers.
Victor Hugo said, “Open a school, close a prison.”
How will the current climate in the Middle East affect the Israeli-Palestine conflict
First of all, it’s great what’s happening over there. When Obama made that speech in Cairo, he wanted to share democracy with all those people. They took him at his word. Now it’s time for us to support that kind of democracy and make it real.
That that same democracy has to filter over to Israel with the Palestinians. And I think that the young people don’t want to have the same ticks and inherit the same problems and the situation. Everybody wants a change, so it’s all good.
Will it lead to more bloodshed before it gets better?
It worked out pretty well in Tunisia. What’s going on in Egypt is amazing. Obviously you can see the difference between what happened in Egypt and what’s going on in Libya, but it’s a very important time for the Israeli government to try to — not to try — I don’t know who said this, was it Rabin who said, “There’s no way to peace, there’s just peace”? Or was it Gandhi said that?