Reel struggles for justice: film director Julia Bacha talks about the making of Budrus.THERE ARE CIVILIAN peacemakers in Israel and Palestine that the international media never covers. In the documentary Budrus, Brazilian-born filmmaker Julia Bacha tells the story of locals and activists involved in nonviolent protest against an Israeli government decision to build a barrier wall in the small Palestinian village of the title. Becky Garrison, author of Jesus Died For This?, caught a press screening of Budrus, a film New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof dubbed "this year's must-see documentary," and spoke with Bacha about the film and her organization Just Vision at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Becky Garrison: What is the history and mission of Just Vision?
Julia Bacha: The overwhelming coverage [of the Middle East] for the past six decades focuses on the militants and politicians and ignores the actions of civilians. Just Vision was created about seven years ago to bring the stories from Israeli and Palestinian civil society that we are not getting into the international and U.S. mainstream media.
How do you select the films you will produce?
When we set out to do a film, we meet with dozens of people and follow several stories at the same time. Gradually we select the stories we believe are the most urgent for people to hear. For Budrus, I met with people from dozens of villages in the West Bank and asked them, "Who are the three people you most admire who are doing this work?"
Ayed Morrar, who is the leader of Budrus, came up first in every one of the interviews that I conducted. When I first met him, he was very reluctant to be the centerpiece of the movie because he's very much aware of the jealousies and infighting on the ground in determining who becomes the "face of the resistance." This made me realize that he was a person with a lot of integrity.
How did you maintain objectivity while filming such an explosive subject?
The notion of objectivity is a mirage. We are subjective human beings with prejudices. What we can do as journalists and filmmakers is be aware of our preconceptions and constantly challenge ourselves. When I go into the field, I ask myself, who do I need to meet to really challenge my preconceptions and broaden my horizon so I can learn? I come in with a lot of curiosity and respect for every side of this conflict.
How do you walk that line between filmmaker and activist?
I want to tell powerful stories about individuals who have been able to overcome incredible odds and yet are completely invisible to the outside world. What the outside world always sees are very canned images of Palestinians as terrorists or Israelis as military. There isn't any real look at the true heroes on the ground. Those are the stories I'm looking for.
I'm looking to understand them in a complex way because I believe that ultimately what's going to move people is a good story. That's the basis of filmmaking. There's a balance between making a film that is accessible to audiences that know nothing about your film or who have a lot of prejudices, but still making it interesting and novel to those who know a lot about the subject.
Hasn't there also been trouble with a planned "Museum of Tolerance" built over a Muslim cemetery?
This is one more element in the process of transforming the face of Jerusalem. It's a plan that the government has of completely annexing Jerusalem. The government doesn't want Jerusalem to become divided, with Palestinians having a capital, or to become united, with Palestinians having an equal say on how to manage the city.
Americans who believe that there should be ultimately a peaceful resolution to the conflict should understand that commitments have been made to not expand into property, especially to places that are so religiously and historically charged as a cemetery.
How has the "City of David" archeological dig in East Jerusalem impacted the Palestinian struggle for land?
It's a demographic struggle they're waging in East Jerusalem. Israel has a specific map of what they want to happen in East Jerusalem, which includes the demolition of homes and the eviction of Palestinians. The individuals in these communities are trying to find nonviolent ways to resist. East Jerusalem is supposed to be the capital of Palestine and Israel has signed agreements that it won't expand settlements. The "City of David" dig, or whatever name you use, is illegal and violates international law.
For more information on Budrus and the work of Just Vision, visit www.justvision.org.
Interview by Becky Garrison