Interview with Ibrahim Handal, director of Bethlehem 2001
Wednesday 24 February 2021, by
Why did you choose to revisit this – I presume traumatic – event as a short film?
Actually, I am still trying to understand what I have done and why. However, I have held in these memories and feelings throughout these years with the purpose of sharing them in a short film. Other filmmakers might have already told this story differently, but I tried to use my own memories to show events that have happened. These events might not even feel as traumatic anymore, because I shared them with the world. I am not the only one who has lived this period of time; many children and parents alike have experienced their own different story, but collectively we share the same points, just with different storylines and plots.
How did you decide to include photos and archive footage? How did you choose which bits of footage to include?
When I was filming the fiction part, which has a big share in the film, something still felt missing, which is the archive footage. I had to experiment a lot with this footage, with its flow, and I had to make sure that every picture aids the storytelling of the film. In the fiction part, we also hear the heavy sounds of the Second Intifada, which was quite challenging to build. I felt like these sounds needed to be visualized in some way. Therefore, I used some unforgettable scenes and pictures from that period. I turned them into black and white, contrasting them with the fiction part which is so colorful, to achieve a certain feeling out of it.
The music is very haunting. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
When I was choosing the music, I listened to all the music that was made in that period, especially for the Second Intifada. There were some famous singers like Ahmad Kaabour and many other artists. When I listened to Ahmad Kaabour’s songs, especially “A’daffa” and “Ounadikom”, from the Album Ounadikom, it really brought back some haunting memories and pictures to my head from the Intifada, and it really made me relive those times. At the time, this music was mostly used for news footage, but when it came to the film, it wasn’t easy to know where the music should be, but it automatically fit into the ending scene, which the music really added some magic to.
What motivated you to become a filmmaker?
What motivated me is the possibility of making images and being part of telling a story visually. My passion is to be a professional Director of Photography (DOP). I would like to work with directors, visualize images and make them a reality, experiment with painting light, choosing lenses, colors, and choosing the way to tell a story visually. I would also like to share my own stories and thoughts through films. It is a great challenge for me to become a Filmmaker and a DOP at the same time.
Can you tell us a bit about your work as a filmmaker in Palestine? There is such a thriving Palestinian film scene, how difficult have you found it to make and distribute your work?
Being a filmmaker and a DOP in Palestine is quite challenging. Most Palestinian films are independent films, because it’s not easy to fund projects. As a result, Palestinian filmmakers mainly do co-productions in order to fund their projects outside of Palestine. When these films are produced in Palestine, I sometimes get the chance to take part as an assistant in the camera department or the light department in feature films, which can also be quite challenging because it largely depends on the funds. Occasionally, I get the chance to be a DOP in small projects, mainly short films, for some of my friends. Sometimes I do my own short films to develop myself as a director of photography. This is a much bigger challenge on both sides as I am behind the camera in addition to being the filmmaker. This is also a great way to improve my cinematography skills and to gain more experience as a DOP.
This is also a very personal film addressed to your parents’ bravery. What do you hope to convey to the audience?
I wanted to convey that bravery isn’t necessarily big and bold acts of courage. As kids, we always derived our courage from our parents, and they made sure we always felt safe. It means a lot to me to be able to pay tribute to that.
What do you think the future holds for short films?
I think the future of short films is exciting but also challenging. There is a lot of competition in the industry. It is not easy to make a good film and also for it to be accepted. However, making short films is a wonderful learning experience, no matter your role in the production team. When you make a short film, you get to live through all the process, in every single shot. It’s like making a feature but with less money and more challenges. You also have to tell a story in a short time, which can be quite limiting at times, so you try to find creative ways to tell it, and each experience makes you better and improves your skills.
If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural or artistic delights would you recommend to alleviate our boredom?
What I am personally trying to do is to watch films that I can learn from and be inspired by as a filmmaker and a DOP. I also try to read and watch some analysis for films and cinematography. Unfortunately, I still cannot find some films that I would like to watch, even online. I wish I could! I also like to ask people in the filmmaking industry what they like to do, which can be inspiring. Since we have had several lockdowns, I got the chance to develop my first feature film and soon I will write my new short film.
Bethlehem 2001 is part of International Competition I7.