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Pleasure to introduce two things to you, a remarkable film and a remarkable person who made it; Ari Sandel to my left to your right, is an academy award winning film maker. He has worked in television film and in music videos. You may have seen him I think especially this audience for his tongue-in-cheek view of the world's unknown hotspots for the young and hip that ran on FX. But what we are all here to look at is to see this this very interesting film he did called "West Bank Story". It is as you will see about, Israelis and Palestinians; I think you will see it is also a film about Israelis and Palestinians unlike any similar film you have ever seen before. So why don't we roll the film and then we will have a discussion with Ari Sandel, thank you. Ari Sandel. Thank you very much. Is this on? Yeah, so first I just want to I would like to say thank you for coming, it's always an honor and pleasure to be able to show the film and to to speak about it, I will talk for about 10 minutes and just kind of explain a little bit about why I made the film and then we will do a kind of a Q&A and by all means please express any feelings you you will not hurt my feelings. So I appreciate complete honesty whatever your reaction is. I made the film as a thesis project for my master's degree at the University of Southern California. And I made the film for basically three reasons. One, as a young director you want to try to create a calling card to try to get a your next movie in Hollywood, to prove to the studio what you can do. So that was one intention. The next intention was I wanted to make a movie that was going to get a lot of attention. And I had this idea of you know, a great title "West Bank Story" and Jews and Arabs dancing, that could be hilarious, but I had no idea what to do with it. And since "West Side Story" is a tragedy and I wanted to make a comedy I knew we had to change it in some capacity. And the very first version that I wrote was about checkpoints and suicide bombers and a lot of the [0:02:19] [Audio Break] and was complete unfunny. And the first person who read it was like, I don't think you should make this movie, and I said okay. So I started thinking about it. And a lot of the warnings you get as a student filmmaker or making a short film is to keep it simple. And I kind of violated all of those rules, you know, we had a big cast and we had music to it and I had camels and fire and all these crazy stuff. So I I thought about, I said I will it on the shelf and I put it away. But the more I would talk about the idea to people about the film, I could see an eyebrow rise and people say, "What is it?" I would say, "Well, it's a comedy about Jews and Arabs". And they say, "A comedy?" I say, "And it's musical too." And they couldn't they were in shock. So I kind of felt like there is something here, I got to try to make it work out. So I teamed up with another co-writer, friend of mine, her name is Kim Ray and we assessed what is really what we were trying to say. We are trying to say that both sides are more similar than they cared to admit. And I wanted to make a movie that was pro-peace. I wanted to make a movie that had a positive message, I wanted to make a movie that was even handed and how it dealt with both sides. We really didn't take a side other than the side of promoting a hopeful message. And in the essence of it, when trying to come up with things they haven't in common, one of the ideas was food, and we said, all right, what if it was instead of being about Israel and Palestine, if there was these two restaurants, they are like falafels and then we can basically use the Kosher King and the Hummus Hut as a metaphor for both countries. And for there we had our kind of absurdist approach, so that when we did it wasn't as offensive I think, it was least something where you get, this is tongue-in-cheek and really, you get you concentrate more on the message and less on the nuance. And in making the film I had everybody warning me, you can't make a movie about the conflict in Middle East as a comedy. You are going to upset every Jew and every Arab, you will never get a job in Hollywood, sure you will have people who are giving you death threats. The Arab boycott. Right, if the Arab and the Jewish boycott so; and I took it to heart. And but eventually we started to write this thing and I said I think this thing could be really funny, I think it could have heart. It's something that's a message that's near and dear to my heart. My father is from Israel. I have been involved in a lot of political organizations and they are like not from a Washington standpoint of course when you say political organizations, that only means that it allows me to go to a couple of events every now and then, I know that here it's like it's your life. But I have I am very I love politics, I love history, I studied the Middle Eastern history in college as well as the History of Islam and Judaism in college. I have travelled the Middle East extensively and I felt like I had a lot to say. So here was the perfect opportunity, I like to make comedies and also I can say something I wanted to say. So as we made the film, and we got and got all of our ducks in a row and started to produce the things and we shot it over the course by about 14 days and we shot it in Santa Clarita, which right now is on fire in LA, it is a town outside of Los Angeles. Ironically it was on fire when I was shooting the film too, and literally there was ash coming from the sky as we were shooting, we had to wear masks and people were like, this is what happens when you make a movie about the Middle East, the apocalypse is coming, so it was kind of strange. And one of the things I had to really concentrate on is how to keep it balanced and not make it what is really pushing the limits, what will be offensive. So we consulted with Jewish Americans, Israelis, I even talked to an orthodox Rabbi who was who couldn't care less if it was about Israelis and Palestinians. He was offended that it was men and women dancing together. So you can't you can't you know, please everybody. I spoke to Palestinians and Arab friends of mine from other countries. And to find out what was too much and what was just enough to kind of push the buttons, and for every joke about Arabs we had to have a joke about Jews. For every nice moment with the Israelis we had to have a nice moment with the Arabs. In writing its one thing, then in shooting you have to keep balanced. And then in editing it becomes a whole different thing because we start to lose scenes and then you will have to like, is this balanced is this is balanced and we would have to bring people to comes, watch almost as a focus groups; Arab friends, Israeli friends, Jewish and people unconnected to get their their feedback. And the movie, my intention was to show the movie at Sundance. It came out in 2005 at the Sundance Film Festival which is a very, very big deal in the film business, especially if you are a short film maker. This can really make a career for you and my goal was to show the film at Sundance; god willing, get an agent and it did incredibly well. It got unbelievable attention, obviously I think because of the kind of concept and yeah, the name and the fact that it's a comedy, people automatically want to just check it out. And to my surprise it just kept going to festivals and festivals and festivals. It has been now two years; it had been to 175 festivals internationally. It has won 35 you know it doesn't compete any more. But it has won 35 festivals and at the end of year in 2005 I got it into the Dubai Film Festival, which was a real goal of mine. I really wanted to go to Dubai. And I have to give them credit because I think they were very forward thinking in the sense that Dubai is not a country that recognizes the state of Israel. The official party line is at there are no Jews living in Dubai, although there are it. Israelis aren't allowed in to the country. So I went to the festival, I brought my father who is from Israel, he uses American passport and the very first screening was at the Emirates Mall. And I wasn't exactly sure how what the response would mean. It was a mostly Arab audience and it got all the same laughs. I mean the same laughs like it played in Park City for Sundance or New York or LA and I was surprised. I thought this was great. I will do a ten minute Q & A. It will be very simple. And everybody clapped in the end when I walked up and I said, okay you know, who has the first question? Somebody raise his hands and he says, I don't like this movie, because it it simplifies the situation. It doesn't show the suffering of the Palestinian people. It trivializes everything; and half the audience clapped. And I went, oh my god and I looked at my dad and my dad was kind of slung down slung down in his chair. And I started to explain why I made the movie. And the fact that this wasn't made to make fun of anything, and the fact what we were up against in making the film. And as I explained a little bit more you could you could hear people the gears turning a little bit, and then a woman raised her hand and she said, I hate your movie. I learnt nothing from your movie. And I said, okay, I was kind of joking about, I said, I don't know if that's a question, but thank you very much, I appreciate the response. And these are all Arabs speaking on behalf of Palestinians. But they are not Palestinians themselves. They are Kuwaiti or Emirate or Lebanese or whatever. And finally a Palestinian woman stood up and she says, I am from Gaza, and she looked around at the audience. She said, it's okay to laugh. I think the movie is hilarious and I really appreciate that you made the movie. And from that moment everybody looked at her and it was total silence. And it was an amazing moment for me as a filmmaker because it was kind of instant validation. And another guy stood up, I am from Ramallah, I love the movie, I want five DVDs for my family. And from this moment I think it was the first experience I had had in that kind of context and I think you get a certain situation amongst Jews where they feel this obligation to speak and support and defend Israel and I think the same thing amongst Arab audience as I found; that they feel an obligation to defend the Palestinian cause. But when a Palestinian stood up and said its okay to laugh, it changed the temperature of the room. And the questions which were very at first combative, became now more supportive. People were on tell us about the budget, what about the music, let's talk about you know, what did you shoot it on like more kind of normal film questions. The ten minute Q&A went an hour and a half. I think for most of the people in the audience they had never had an open conversation about the situation with a westerner let alone a Jew or the son of an Israeli. And the woman who came who had originally said, I hate your movie, came up to me afterwards and she said, I just want to tell you I still hate your movie. I said, god I said, okay I appreciate that and she said, but I respect what you are doing, I am glad you are here, and to be honest you are the first Jew I ever met. So I shook her hand, I said, well, this is my father, he is from Israel. She said, oh, hi, thank you I mean that it was kind of a sweet moment and I was for the for the week, I had a lot of Palestinians coming out to me you are the guy who made the movie, can I get a DVD and I always carry DVDs on backpack and gave them out. And it was a fantastic experience. And now it's the end of 2005, and I figured okay, that's the end of the movie and put it on the shelf and move on to some other things. And at the end of the year it qualified for the Academy Awards. I submitted it thinking nothing of it; literally, I mean comedies don't ever win the Academy Awards. Even my agent, who happens to be a very good friend of mine said, look, cold day in hell pal, you will never win. And I said, all right fine. So I submitted it and a year later, the Academy called me and they said, is Ari Sandel there? I said, yeah. They were calling from the Academy. And I got quiet, I thought may be they wanted to find out where to send my material back and I said and they said, "Well you are short listed for the Academy Awards." I said, "Short listed what does that mean?" Well you are in the final 10 and in six weeks, they are going to pick five nominees for the Academy Awards. I said, "For what?" "For the best short film." I dropped the phone. I couldn't I couldn't believe it. Like in my wildest dreams, I never imagined. Of course in my fantasies I always hoped but I never realistically. And for the next three days, I thought should I tell anybody, I don't want to jinx it, what if it doesn't happen, then I sort of think, if it doesn't happen, no one is ever going to believe me. And then what you tell them, "Oh, I was almost nominated. Let me tell you how it works." So for the next three days I got on the phone, I literally called every person I had ever met in my life. And it was real nice a lot, "Oh what you are up to?" "Oh me, nothing, just almost nominated for an Oscar you know." And and this six weeks went by, they called the nominations, I was nominated, another six weeks went by and it was total chaos and craziness and interviews and international interviews and radio stuff and it completely changed my life. I took my mother to the awards with me and lucky for me I was they called my name and I walked out walked up to the stage and literally, I did I blacked out on stage I had no I remember walking up the stage, I remember walking off the stage, I had no idea what I had said on stage. Luckily I didn't say anything bad. And it's on YouTube. Yeah. The speech is on YouTube, that's true. It is. Yeah. And so since then I have been taking the film to different places and more festivals and I have taken it around the world, I have now shown it in Turkey, I showed it in Jerusalem, I showed it in Ramallah, which was a fantastic experience. I can talk about it more a little bit and you know, since then it's it's been a real pleasure to be able to take the film around and to kind of open up, dialogue and to create a situation when people can can talk about. So I appreciate you taking a look. Thank you. I wanted to have an opportunity to have Ari talk with all of you but I thought may be we sort of start the discussion. I mean you talked about this remarkable positive feedbacks and negative feedback that turned into mostly positive feedback. What's the sort of most surprising negative experience? I mean given that that you generally had a very, very positive understandable, sort of affirming the universal message of this film, has there been stuff just taking you aback, like where are these people coming from? Yeah. I would say, the majority, I would say the 95 percent of the response is positive. And you have five percent on both sides. Either it's coming from people who just don't want to see anything that shows chronicle of the other side as anything other than evil. Or it's from people who feel like the movie isn't realistic. In that sense, I always say, "Look it's not a documentary, this is not meant to this is not meant to be a learning tool, this is not you are not this is not a political solution, it's not a historical lesson, this is a movie about one thing and it's supposed to promote hope". And the reality is is when making the movie I did a lot of research. And I watched probably somewhere in the range of 75 documentaries and I would watch them at night and I would lay in bed for two hours just fuming, because whatever documentary I watch, whether it was from the Palestinian perspective or the Israeli perspective it was so unfair to the other side, I felt like. And everything you watch is very informative and it's very insightful but it's usually one sided and it's incredibly negative. And it will literally make you feel like this thing is never going to end. So then at the end you are like why even care who cares? And unfortunately the market in the film world is saturated with films about this subject. And I have people from other festivals saying don't make any more films about because I said I was going to make a documentary, I want to make a documentary about the situation. They said, don't bother, we don't take them anymore. Why? Because people don't want to see it any more, because they are so negative, no one cares. And that to me is a travesty, because you can have a really insightful documentary, but if it makes you hate the other side then why do we care? And that to me is killing the message. So just the fact that if you can make a movie that will make you like the other side or at least want to learn about the other side or sympathizes with the other side, will keep you vested in it, that's something that's important to me, I think. And that was the intention of this movie. It wasn't meant to be a peace plan by any means. So I think if anything is negative a lot of people would comment on the simplicity of the film. It has to be simple to be a comedy. I think if you get in to the nuance or into the complications, you then it does become offensive and does become trivial. And I think some people will have commented on the portrayal a comment I got a lot when I was in Ramallah I got a fairly positive response, but one of the comments was clearly by picking a woman you are trying to say that the Palestinian side is weaker than the Israeli side; which I was shocked by that comment, because it came from a woman. And I explained that's really not I never even thought of that. Its amazing to me that the scrutiny of the film gets things that you never took into consideration, like for instance, some people would say, why did you make the Palestinian side the restaurant red, because were angry or I never thought about it. It was supposed to be red red, green, white and black for the flag. Why did you put the Jewish guy on the bottom in the poster? Are you trying to say that we are not as important? So crazy that the amount of scrutiny that the film gets, but I think people take from the film what they are bringing. And with this comment about the Palestinian woman, well a lot of what I got also is why are you depicting the Palestinian woman behaving in this manner. This is very un Palestinian. This is not part of our culture. She is not only she is dating, but she is dating another religion and is a soldier and she is kissing him in public. If this and somebody said this in Jerusalem when I showed it to Palestinian if this was real life, I think it would end in an honor killing. I said; okay and this I don't discredit that complaint. I understand that's coming from I think you know in the sense that this is an American film, you know it's a love story. I think you have to have them kiss at the end. It was we worked very hard to make it as PG as possible the kiss; because the girl who plays Fatima is Indian Muslim. She grew up in a very strict household and so I would always consult with her, is this is something that your father would be okay with, if you were to wear this is this something and she is like, "Believe me, he is not going to be happy that I am kissing." So so I think he is okay with it now. But it was important to me to be respectful in that sense, but at the same time you have to also meet a certain you know, criteria I think for western audience as well you know, to make sense. So again, you can never in making any movie that's dealing with the conflict, if you are trying to please all sides you will fail. If you try to be everything you are nothing. I picked the one thing I wanted to do, pro peace and hope and that I think, you know hopefully we have achieved. And I would say this; a lot of people have come up to me and said and these are a lot of westerners, who aren't Jewish, who aren't Arab who aren't Muslim; and said you know what, I didn't I don't know that much about the situation and truthfully when I see it on the news I turn it off because I don't care, it's complicated, I don't even understand it, and now that I have see your movie it kind of makes me want to learn more. Now I hope that that's not the only thing they watch, because you know the Kosher Kings and Hummus Hut isn't going to teach them that much; but if there -. It creates a market for your forthcoming documentary. That's okay, or a potential franchise for a falafel stand. That's right. One thing that you said I think highlights the difficulty you have both being even handed and being perceived as even handed, with these communities; I mean as an American in the United States, it's certainly perceived in the Arab world as having an extraordinarily close relationship with Israel, your dad is Israeli, you I am guessing form your biographical information spend a lot of time traveling to Israel. It's a side that feels very intimate to you and then the Palestinian sides are more foreign, is that is that something that you sort of struggled through making the film, did you come out in a different place or do you sort of reach your piece with how all this stuff fits together before you start making the film? No I didn't have any piece took to reach. I mean I have always been very clear in my head, on what my feelings are about the situation you know I believe that both sides have a right to exist. I always have felt that way and I think my opinions fall this this way. But people would say, you are biased because your father is from Israel. Well I have an understanding of the Israeli side and the Jewish perspective because of that, but because I am American and I have been raised you know with very American ideals and American experience as in how we treated black during the Civil Rights or native Americans or in turn the Japanese, were the sense that Americans really see themselves as the underdog because we are raised to you know, believe or understand or know to learn about the revolutionary war and we fought tyranny and a battle to for own independence, as an American how can you not also see the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli side. So I think - from my perspective, it was very clear cut and there was never an issue of you know am I selling out one side or another. I I never had that that issue. I also have a lot of very close Arab friends and spoke with them at length - you know when I am at home, I I - a lot of times have played devil's advocate if I am with Jewish friends or Israeli friends; I find myself you know advocating the Palestinian side. If I am with Palestinian or Arab friends, I find myself advocating the Israeli or Jewish side. Because I think to me it's not a situation of good receive on, if you go with out mentality you will fail, these are two good sides. And so I think if you can address that on a film, that's a much better film to me than a movie that says, the other side is all this. And I I find those kind of films boring. Let me let me ask another question, I mean, you you have gone around the world with this film, - you have probably seen it several hundred of - not thousand times. You have seen lots of different audiences respond to it. has that process, the sort of three years or two and half years of seeing this film out there seeing responses, interacting with audiences, being in sessions like this; has this moved you in a different place or is it confirmed that that you should had it right at the beginning? I think it's kind of firm that I had the idea right. I probably handle a few things a little differently. I know that that - I get a lot of questions about the the actor. Why aren't the actors Palestinian? You know there are the the simple fact is there just aren't a lot of of Palestinian actors in the Hollywood and and that's the honest to god truth. So my American westerns or you would have white guys playing the Native Americans. So I want I didn't want to have non-Arabs or non-Muslims playing the Palestinians. So I said, that's what our our real goal is so we have to have make sure make sure that everyone playing Palestinian is either an Arab or Muslim and that is the case. One is Jordanian, one is Indian Muslim, one is half Syrian half Palestinian, one is Egyptian. And on the Israeli side, they are either Israeli or Jewish. In a perfect world then I mean I would find all the greatest Palestinian actors and all the you know the best known Israeli actors to do it. But I I was very happy with the actors we found, I think that they did a really good job, they really related to it the material I think and and so in essence I am I am very happy with it. I would say, "As far as the negative responses go to the films that - in general most people have been very supportive." This is about all country [0:22:24] ____ it's been very supportive. The interesting thing is that you always get a different reaction from different audience. Different audiences laugh at different things, they get different jokes. There are certainly some inside jokes in here like when they both say, "Yallah" if you are not Israeli or or Arabic; you are not Arab; you are not going to probably get that joke. There is a few American slang terms in there that if you are not American, you might not get. What's interesting is I think the quietest audience I had ever played to was in Germany to a non-Jewish audience. I played it to two audiences in in Germany; one was an all Jewish audience, they loved it. Then I played to a German audience, no Jews crickets and I was I was freaking in the in the screen and I said oh my god, this is a disaster. The only thing they laughed at were the two kind of physical comedy jokes which is when he lets the the suicide bomber by and then when the guys come makes the face when she said we are in love, and he goes oh. You know, they really - they laughed at that because it's physical and that's kind of obvious and I asked later, I said, "Why didn't they find it funny with?" And the German guy said, "Listen, we are so conditioned over here to be sensitive to anything that's related to Jews or or Jews and Palestinians that we are on edge, we don't know if you can laugh or not laugh. So we just don't laugh." And I said said "Then, okay. Oh that's good to know - you know. I mean just before we open it up - did make it a musical change the message, is there a way in which you think it has more impact because it is a musical and and in some ways there are there are sort of segways between the Arabian and Jewish themes? They musical aspect of of it to me did a few things. First, it was another way to promote the comedy and to really punch it up and to be funny. It was a kind of high concept. It was a way to say, "Hey, you remember West side Story, here is West Bank Story." I could have doubted it's just a comedy but West Bank Story and West Side Story had you know, West Side Story has such a a connection with American with Americans I think that I wanted to just kind of tap into that. I thought you can do these funny things, something like this and do some of the dancing. I I also, something I am very proud of in the in the music is that I think this is the first time Palestinian sounds and rhythms and Jewish klezmer and American Jazz have all melded together and with into one sound track and I though that was really cool and added to the idea of hey everybody getting together and and doing everything together and I though you could promote a little more Jewish culture musically and Palestinian culture musically, so I though that was nice. And then there is always the Beverly Hills synthesis? Right - right - by yeah the the people in Beverly Hills love that jokes. Not that you know anybody in that category? No. We have microphones on either side. If people would come to the microphones I would let me let me also just say one other thing. As as far as the Beverly Hills joke was, one thing I get a lot in other country is why did I say Beverly Hills? Am I trying to say that Jews and Arabs only have money in common in such a cynical way of saying talking about peace? The the notion was literally to say, there are people out there who think literally who will say, "They are going to fight forever almost like it's genetic like their cats and dogs will never get along, just don't want just forget about it. And the point was to show that if you take Jews and Arabs out of the the specific local region there is no problems. It's not a 2000 year conflict. This is a a local conflict in the last 100 years and it has nothing to do with Jews and Arabs and my point was if you look at Beverly Hills literally, Arabs and Jews live side by side and there is no problems and that was the reference in why we made we made a joke about Beverly Hills. Sorry go ahead.