“In Hollywood, 80% of the budget goes on luxury and things you don’t need”

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Hany Abu Assad he has learned with his latest film that he is prepared to give up the temptations of Hollywood. The director, twice nominated for an Oscar for paradise now Y omarreturns to Palestine after doing the Americas to direct Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in an old-fashioned romance, the mountain between uswhich cost 42 times more than his new job. With Huda’s traditiona thriller based on real events that can already be seen in Spanish cinemas, vcome back to shoot against the most powerful.

The Dutch-Palestinian director’s first work in five years is based on the true story of a beauty salon worker in occupied palestine who was blackmailed after they took nude pictures of her. The woman had to choose between becoming a traitor to her country or seeing how her shame was discovered in one of the most macho places on the planet. Twenty years after this story shocked Palestinian society, the situation of women has hardly improved.

Abu-Assad visited the last edition of the Seminci of Valladolidwhere he spoke with SERIES & MÁS about his recurring views on the conflict in the Middle East, the evolution of public opinion in recent years and his incursions into the film industry of the country closest to Israel on the geopolitical stage.

To what extent is it based Huda’s betrayal in a true story?

In part of our society nudity can be a scandal to the point that you can lose your life if you are caught in such a situation. That’s the real story, but in the movie all the characters are 100% fictional. The reality is the base, but it is only the beginning. It was very interesting to me from a narrative point of view, but I also wanted to explore the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity in film. With this story I wanted to make a cinematographic reflection on the contradiction

As a director you need new challenges. If you want to do something in a more linear or slave way with what really happened, the documentary is the best way to tell some stories. The first thing I did is ask myself what is the theme behind a story like this: betrayal and loyalty. I wondered how to portray those contradictions in images. I wanted to do flashbacks as if they were flashforwards, without having to go back in time. I took it as an experiment as a director. While I was making the film I had no idea if it was going to work. I was really scared, but I want to try new things every time I get out of bed.

Almost ten years have passed since the last time you made a film about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the most recurring theme of your career. Why did you decide it was time to go back to it?

I have to be clear on this. The open war between Israel and Palestine is the most important conflict of my life. In my personal life I am very sensitive to injustices, it also happens to me as a spectator with stories set in the Spanish civil war, the resistance in South America or the partisan groups that fought against Nazi Germany. They have always seemed very important to me. As an artist, I feel compelled to fight as best I can against power and these injustices. When I tell stories about Palestine, I cannot pretend that a number of things are not happening in my country. I think it is clear that we are facing an injustice, a destructive cancer that threatens to end everything.

I am also concerned about our future as a society. We are destroying the Earth from within. Global warming is nothing more than a symptom of what we are doing to the planet. I don’t know if we are going to suffer the consequences in a year, in 100 or in 200, but it is a fact. It’s something that always worried me. I think I was 17 years old when I first became interested in the environment. [Abu-Assad cumplirá 61 años el próximo 11 de octubre] and now everyone talks about it. People used to look at me like I was crazy. I am someone who seeks to actively participate when I see a problem, whether it is the environment, consumerism or the illegitimate occupation of a country. Domination always leads to self-destruction. It is the law of life.

Still from ‘The betrayal of Huda’.

You have also been very critical of discrimination against women in your country.

Of course. My concerns go beyond the occupation. In Palestine we have problems with domestic violence, sexual abuse and human rights. My way of dealing with all this is peaceful, but I can understand who decides to resort to violence at a given moment. I don’t want to be hypocritical about it, although my nature is different and I prefer to fight with these problems from beauty and art. I want to tell stories that stir viewers and challenge their thinking.

Huda’s betrayal shows the first nude of a Palestinian actress in the cinema. Was she afraid when making the film of the reaction that this moment might have in her country?

It’s curious. The story of this film about a woman who belongs to a very specific place in our society where if something like this happens, the man will punish the woman before the occupant. Since they have no authority to punish him, they decide that it is the woman who pays the price. It is important for them to establish a sense of authority, even though doing so may involve resorting to injustice. I wanted to portray that in a film, how in some communities they behave as if authority is more important than justice. Those same people are the ones who get offended when you decide to show a naked woman in a movie.

At the same time, I also make this film so that I can strike up a conversation with them. I have no need to convince a viewer like you, but I do need to convince that part of Palestinian society. In that sense I am respectful towards them, but I also want to provoke something in them and make them understand that this false sense of authority is less important than the humanity of people, and of women in particular.

The protagonist of 'The betrayal of Huda'.

The protagonist of ‘The betrayal of Huda’.

A few years ago Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz signed a manifesto against the occupation of Palestine. Then they were heavily criticized in some circles in the United States, but now the situation is different and even an Israeli woman like Natalie Portman is very critical of her government. Do you have hope for a change in public opinion in this regard?

Look, I’m going to be very direct in this regard. The State of Israel is wrong every time it commits a crime in the name of the Jews under the pretext that it is defending their interests. It’s hurting them. They do not protect anyone, as they believe, because they are committing a criminal act. I think that people who are critical of Israel actually care more about the Jews than they do about Zionists.

The Israelis commit crimes to protect their authority, as happens precisely in the film. It is pathetic when these crimes are defended. I think that is the reason why they are losing this war. It is not because we Palestinians are strong. We are not. If you compare the forces of one and the other, we are nothing. I think there is more and more awareness in Israel because they realize that these so-called acts of defending Israel are actually anti-Semitic. You just have to travel the world and talk to people to find out what they really think. There are not many doubts about it. They kill children. They are criminals.

You have been nominated twice for an Oscar. What kind of experiences have you had in a place with as many Jews in power as Hollywood?

Hollywood is very big, as is the Jewish community. There is no uniform behavior in this sense. In my career I have had a lot of support from progressive Jews in the United States. I have met many Jews who were against me, but also many others who understood the story I was telling and my reasons for doing so. Hollywood is many things at the same time.

It’s funny, because Americans are not as sensitive to pressure as Europeans. You know why? In the United States they have a very imperial attitude, they feel that they can do what they want with their lives. I spent 25 years living in Europe, in the Netherlands, and I realized that we have a wrong opinion of the United States. They are more critical of authority if they believe it is wrong. Look, many of his films are stories of individuals who revolt against power.

Your previous film was very different, a romantic drama with Hollywood stars. What was it like going back to your roots and on a more controlled scale?

I was happy. One of the things that motivated me was proving that I could make a million dollar movie after shooting a 42. I was relieved that I hadn’t gotten hooked on the privilege and luxury of making such an expensive movie. You are on a shoot where you have private transport, caravans… In a project like this, 80% of the budget goes on luxury and on things you don’t really need. Many things are not reflected in the film. You travel in first class, they give you the best food… None of that is necessary when you are working and, at the same time, luxury is very addictive.

It’s hard to go back to normal after trying something like that. I can’t judge others, but I admit that I am proud of myself when I discover that I don’t need those things. I can go back to work on a million dollar budget, have nowhere to sit and cook myself if I have to.

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