Humor

British-Palestinian filmmaker Basil Khalil uses humor to understand conflict during a weekend in Gaza [Exclusive Interview]

I was at the premiere here at the festival. The crowd was so big, so responsive. What did you feel ?

This is the right place to show this film, because it is a pleasure for the public. This is not a lofty concept, an arthouse, a preachy movie for upper middle class intellectuals to speak out and signal their awakening to care about the misery of others. I’d say the movie tackles some tough stuff, but it’s made in an approachable way and also keeps you entertained for 90 minutes, right? It’s pretty hard to get a movie in theaters when you’re up against streamers and big Marvel movies. But I’ve always wanted to entertain people, so I hope every time people go back to the cinema, or wherever they watch it, they feel like it’s not 90 minutes wasted or a 90 minute lecture.

I thought while watching the film that this might be the first introduction for many Canadians and Americans to the Palestinian people who are not suffering and crying or who are not militant and threatening. This may be the first time they see people in Gaza doing their job, earning money, laughing, raising children.

Which is embarrassing that we have to make a movie to show normal people. But I also understand that this is the world we live in. You know, everyone has their bubble and their life, and it’s the loudest voice that gets attention, and at the moment, we Palestinians are not the loudest voice. I was also inspired by “Get Out” and “Nope” and how they were like, they were entertaining movies, had a very strong subject, with a very clear problem to address, but that wasn’t the point of the movie. Like, I walked out of “No” just blown away by the artistry and the storytelling. People feel it, they feel it when you preach to them, and they get it for free from the news, don’t they?

Right. And obviously there’s no shortage of movies shot in Palestine or by Palestinians, and so often what you get are these depictions of misery and suffering. Where does this come from? Are Western buyers only interested in these films? Festivals that do not program other genres of film?

There are so many factors. I don’t know all of them, but I do, like I have my colleagues who make movies and some of them are happy and some are painful, and that’s because the trauma isn’t over. That’s the thing with Palestine – the trauma lasts. So either the artists have this blazing fire to share, to get people to look at the injustice that’s happening – and that’s valid and should be happening and needs to be documented – and there are others, like me, who come from a mixed heritage. So my mother is English and Irish, my father is Palestinian, and I can see that from the outside, let’s say from a westerner’s point of view, who doesn’t want to go to the cinema to feel guilty. It’s a very colonial state of mind. Like, “We made a mess, we don’t want to talk about it.” But I have this privilege of being able to somehow distance myself from the weight of the baggage of collective trauma that still lingers.

My co-author [Daniel Chan] is not from there, he is Portuguese, Chinese and British. So he was also able to say to me, “Okay, this joke or this scene or this guy is too local. Let’s make it understandable. I want to address this issue. How do we get there?” So I was able to keep the Palestinian sense of humor so that other Palestinians could laugh about it and find it funny and entertaining and see themselves in it, and a foreigner who has no idea about it could find another avenue and a different gag, but also understand the message.