A Palestinian Director Subverts a Symbol of Oppression—Twice


When I travel to Park City,” says Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, on the phone from the Sundance Filmmakers Lab, “I am a filmmaker. There is a car waiting for me at the airport. But when I go back to Israel, I have to stand in line three to four hours in the sun just to get to my destination. You become a dog.” He adds, “Even dogs have more rights.”

The 41-year-old Nazareth-born director brings a sharp-edged wit and exasperated perspective to the Israeli occupation in his two latest works, Rana’s Wedding (a drama opening August 22) and Ford Transit (a documentary that played the Human Rights Watch festival in June). Israeli-controlled checkpoints are the prime loci for both—a site of inconvenience, violence, and in the former film, a bittersweet marriage ceremony.

For Abu-Assad, the checkpoints are not just a symbol of oppression but also represented a huge obstacle in making Rana’s Wedding. “It was really hell,” he recalls. “We couldn’t pass the checkpoints in our cars, so we were forced to use the Ford Transits,” he says, referring to the former Israeli military personnel carriers now used by the Palestinians as taxis. A resourceful driver named Rajai—who would become the subject of Ford Transit—saved Rana’s Wedding, according to the filmmaker. “He was a superman. He always said, ‘No problem.’ They were even shooting at us, and he’d say, ‘No problem.’ ”

The fiction of Rana’s Wedding and the reality of Ford Transit mix in innumerable ways (the bulldozing of Palestinian houses first appears in the drama, for example, and is confirmed in the documentary), but it’s Abu-Assad’s satirical approach to his subject matter that unites the two movies stylistically. He calls his sense of humor “a surviving method. By exposing your suffering with jokes, you say to your occupier, ‘I am beyond being insulted.’ ”

His filmmaking is an act of resistance as well. But he says it’s not by his own choosing. “I am forced to be political,” he says, “because there is a war against the Palestinians to make them invisible, so you must make the Palestinians very visible in your movies, in your interviews, in your everything.”

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Michael Atkinson’s review of Rana’s Wedding