The first installment in The Price of Kings series is being screened at the New Horizon film festival that takes place in Iran's capital, Tehran. The festival began yesterday and will run until the 7th September 2012. A total of 850 movies from 66 countries were submitted so we're exited to be one of the chosen few that will actually be shown.
For 4 days the festival will be playing host to independent filmmakers from around the world and is focusing on social and political issues such as The Occupy movement and the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Arafat should be right at home amidst the other selections and we hope to see a reaction that will come close to those we received at our last festival in Jerusalem. Co-director Joanna hopes to fly out for a Q&A after the screening depending on her Visa application!
As well as a collection of films there will also be workshops, conferences and meetings with Iranian cinematic and audio-visual officials - for more information about the festival please visit their website.
Stay tuned for updates on our Screenings page.
A rather belated final blog update from Price of Kings co-director Richard Symons, reflecting on the team's final screening on their Middle East tour:
After Tuesday night's Ramallah high, something had to give.
We put it down to bad vibes from the Allenby Bridge border crossing, but by the time we arrived in Amman, Jo was wheelchair-bound with her leg in a plaster cast.
At Allenby, Palestinians are separated out onto segregated busses, I'm guessing that this is so if anything goes down at the Israeli checkpoint it's away from the eyes of international travellers. In any case, after a bad fall off our bus we found ourselves ambulancing Jo to the local hospital's x-ray unit and it would be another couple of hours before we were back en route.
The last time we were in Jordan was to shoot Bassam Abu Sharif and the village of Karameh for the Arafat film. Bassam was Time magazine 1970's "Face of Terror" and the man who recruited/trained "Carlos the Jackal" We'd spent a day interviewing him and he confirmed he was coming to tonight's screening in the amphitheatre of the Royal Film Commission.
Bassam had quite literally put his life on the line more than once for both Arafat and the Palestinian struggle. Having spent the day with him was an education in itself and provided way more insight than we could include in the finished film [you can see exclusive footage here] We'd also discovered he wasn't a man who suffered fools gladly. No-nonsense, no bullshit. This would be the first time he'd see the film.
Jordan's ties with Arafat are deep and divided in opinion on his leadership. Originally we'd had two long sequences in the film that had to be cut [some of this is in the extras online and DVD] - the battle of El Karameh and Black September (in particular his escape with Munib al Masri when this went down). Did this mean we'd be seen as having written them out of his history ? We could only hope they'd understand 70 years of history isn't easily packed into the length of a film.
The screening went well - hard not to when the setting was so extraordinary but there was an ominous silence for the credits and our entrance to the Q&A (despite Jo on crutches) which contrasted strongly with the previous night in Ramallah.
It's always going to be tough to play a film to the people who've lived through it's events and therefore fuse what they've experienced first hand with what they've been told by the media at the time. For example, one audience member claimed Clinton/Washington knew about the Oslo negotiations saying, "you know nothing", effectively refusing to accept the testimony of the actual negotiators who in the film said it was secret.
I scanned the audience and Bassam's seat was empty.
After about 20 minutes some of the audience started coming round whilst others who had previously kept quiet began defending the film and things started to even out a little - either way, it was a stark reminder that not only were we dealing with extremely sensitive and controversial subject matter, but also that opinions held on Arafat, were held passionately.
We tried to call Bassam afterwards, figuring we may as well face the music but couldn't get through...
The worry stayed with us till the next morning. He got in touch via email - no explanation as to why he'd left in the Q&A but all was good... he'd liked the film. No time for relief - just a dash to the gate and homewards bound.
Price of Kings co-director Richard Symons' notes from the screening of our Arafat film in Ramallah last night:
Tues 10/07/12, 9.00am. 10 hours to go.
So far, so good... but Ramallah is a 300+ seater and all the press would be there. The word was it would be packed but like Jenin the night before, we'd gone for a free screening on a first come, first served basis which can go either way. After Al Jazeera's report on Arafat's poisoning the week before, there'd been protest on Ramallah's streets. We couldn't get clear confirmations from many of the Palestinian Authority's leadership on whether they would come. It could easily be a very empty cinema or perhaps a very publicly badly received film in front of a packed audience - not sure which would be worse.
I've got a splitting headache, which is not going away. 3 hours sleep and up early to work on cutting the films down to under 60 mins for TV with Andrew and Lucy editing in London via remote. Every cut's painful. Films feel too fast and missing many of the beloved nuances we'd painfully worked on for so long.
1.00 pm: Still no confirmation from the PA. General Tirawi, who features in the film is coming.
3.30 pm: Munib al Masri, another interviewee and one of Arafat's first backers confirms.
4.00 pm: More media confirmations and interview requests. We can't fit them all in, some will have to be tomorrow morning - delaying our departure for Jordan. Headache going nowhere and finally decide to take something.
5.30 pm: Soundcheck. The Al Kasaba - Ramallah's only cinema looks large and empty. The projector's a little underpowered and the film looks overly dark. We do our best to brighten things up. It's not ideal.
6.50 pm: General Tirawi's here. Last time we saw him was in Jericho at his training camp. He impresses. A quiet smile and solid as a rock. What's he going to think of himself in the film ? No-one likes to see themselves on screen and Tirawi made a serious exception to appear. More nerves. I go to the bar for a drink out of sight.
7.00 pm: We should be starting the film… Tirawi's inside presumably with the 60 or so other people who are here on time. I ask Hindi what's up. He tells me Brits never get used to middle-eastern time-keeping.
7.20 pm: Munib al Masri arrives, Jo and I walk him in. The cinema's packed, perhaps 30 seats empty with more coming in. By the time the lights go down people have filled the aisles.
Applause and tears during the film, a silence on the corruption stuff. More applause at the end. More tears in the audience during the Q&A that set off Jo and the compere. A blessed relief.
Price of Kings Co-director Richard Symons reflects on the team's first day at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and the screening of our Yasser Arafat documentary.
Apart from the obvious nerves of actually screening the film on Yasser Arafat in Jerusalem, the after-film Q&A was my main cause of concern. The only way to figure out how rough a ride we were going to get would be to sit through it with the audience. Sold out, we'd given up our seats thinking it'd be no problem to simply slip in and out through the rear entrance. Except when we arrived at the cinema it became clear there was no rear entrance. Slipping in and out could only be done by a door to the left of the screen in full view of the audience,
We sat outside waiting to go on listening for clues. There weren't any. Couldn't hear a thing until the door opened and a steward appeared, ushering us in. Through the open door you could hear Suha Arafat's last lines on screen signalling the end music, credits. Light up and… applause. Phew.
Not to say we didn't face strong questions on the use of terror, corruption etc. and our perspective/handling of them, as well as one of the best questions we'd ever had on Arafats negotiations with Rabin post-Oslo and the Buruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron. The Q&A ran over to such an extent we had to continue it in a hall next door and it was clear many of the audience were coming to the Peres screening tonight.
Addendum - our Shimon Peres screening sold out. Word's come in the film's being debated on Israel's Ch1 news (BBC equivalent) tonight, will be fascinating to see the difference in the media debate.
Tuesday 3rd July 19:00
Further to Al Jazeera’s breaking news today that, following a 9-month investigation, tests indicate former Palestinian leader Arafat was poisoned, Spirit Level Film’s documentary The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat unveils the full truth behind Arafat’s mysterious death in Paris.
The filmmakers spoke to everyone present at Arafat’s deathbed and they explain why they took Arafat to Paris, their secret agreement with the French authorities, the death report, autopsy and the decision to remain silent.
The film also includes interviews with those who visited him in the last few weeks or who were hidden in the compound – his widow Suha Arafat; his nephew Nasser al Kidwa; Palestinian Authority’s Cabinet Minister, Nabil Sha’ath; from the intelligence services, Tawfiq Tirawi and his financier Munib al Masri. All of the above were captured on camera:
“From our interviews with all the people closest to Arafat, we felt moved by their conviction that Arafat had been poisoned. The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat covers all the circumstances around his death and it is fascinating to hear this final piece of the jigsaw.” Filmmakers Joanna Natasegara & Richard Symons.
UPDATE 23:10 (BST) 03/07/2012- EXCLUSIVE BREAKING: We just spoke directly to Suha Arafat on the phone - she gave us this quote: "I began to talk about Arafat's death for the first time in The Price of Kings - at the time of those interviews we didn't have the full proof of poisoning. Now we have the evidence".
For further information, including a full transcription of the video above and interview requests please contact:
Today is Nakba Day, an annual commemoration of the displacement of Palestinians that followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14th May, 1948.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which followed Israel’s declaration of independence, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled from their homes and villages as the conflict raged.
The displacement, dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people is known as al-Nakba, meaning "the catastrophe," or "the disaster."
In both films, our interviewees discuss the impact of Israel’s declaration of independence, the Arab-Israeli war, and the Nakba.
Shimon Peres stood alongside the ‘Founding-Father of Israel’, David Ben-Gurion, at celebrations in Tel Aviv on independence day in 1948, and he remembers: ‘The whole streets in Israel were full with dancers… and joy. There was just one sad man on that evening, and it was Ben-Gurion. I stood on his side … And he said, “today they are dancing and singing, tomorrow we shall have bloodshed”. And that’s what happened.’
There is debate over when the Nakba/ Arab-Israeli war actually began. The general argument by Israelis is that conflict began on 15th May, when five of the seven countries that made up the Arab League invaded the newly formed Israel. However, Palestinians argue that conflict had begun weeks, if not months before the official declaration of the state of Israel. Many argue that Arab residents of Jewish areas of Palestine, such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa, had been forced to flee their homes because they were either forcibly removed, or because they feared so much for their safety that they had no other option but to leave.
Uri Avnery fought in the Irgun during the war, and during his interview he recollected that, ‘From the beginning it was clear that this was, this would be a war without mercy... Our orders were to attack villages, which automatically meant that the people would flee from the villages. But we also got orders, in the last stages of the war, not to allow any Arab to come back to the villages, and to shoot everybody who was found in the area, to shoot them on sight. And this is what actually happened.’
The war was brutal, leaving many casualties on both sides.
Only a few Palestinians were allowed to return to their homes after the war was over. Dr Husam Zomlot, born in Shaburah refugee camp- south of the Gaza Strip, expressed the sense of injustice felt by many Arab residents, who’s traditional homelands had become part of the new Israeli state:
'We are not refugees who came from Mars, we are refugees who were kicked out of our home by a project that did not tolerate even our presence and existence as a nation and we shall fight.'
On this day of remembrance of a national and cultural tragedy for the Palestinians, it is also important to focus on the future, and the positive steps that can be taken to achieve stability and peace between Israel and Palestine. Considering the vastly different narratives surrounding the Nakba and the Arab-Israeli war, it is clear that until some reconciliation can be made between the two sides, peace and security will remain out of reach.