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Palestine Film Festival: Michel Khleifi

The Barbican launches a season of Arab cinema featuring films from Raid Andoni, Heiny Sour and the UK premiere of Khleifi's 'Zindeeq'

The week-long London Palestine Film Festival opens on April 29 at the Barbican. It includes, among other rarely seen gems, the UK premiere of idiosyncratic documentary 'Fix ME', in which director Raid Andoni tries to rid himself through therapy of tension headaches caused by the stress of Ramallah life, and Heiny Sour’s boldly experimental 80s film 'Leila and the Wolves', examining roles played by Palestinian and Lebanese women in their nation’s struggles through the figure of an exiled photography curator. Director Q&As will follow these, and opening film 'Zindeeq' from acclaimed director Michel Khleifi. In this hazily poetic film a Palestinian filmmaker returns to his homeland from Europe only to be plunged into danger when an incident in Nazareth leaves him open to the laws of vendetta. We spoke to Khleifi about the background to this meandering night-time drift through the labyrinthine alleys of the biblical town.
Dazed Digital: Could you explain the film’s title?
Michel Khleifi:
Zindeeq is the same name as Voltaire’s Zadig. The story of this word dates back to before the Islamic era, when it was “assiddeeq” or the pious one. The same word migrated to Persian, where it became “Zadig”. In the 8th and 9th centuries Baghdad, then the capital of the Abbassid Empire, was home to Muslims who originated from many different backgrounds and persuasions, including from Persia, where many revolutionary ideas had originated in protest at the central powers of the empire, which fought them with the stigma of “Zadig” or the more Arabic “Zindeeq”, to designate them as heretics. With time, this word has preserved a range of meanings, from heretic to hoodlum to renegade to street-wise, marginalised and non-conformist. The character in the film is all these things at once, a bit like you and me!

DD: Zindeeq, though symbolic, poetic fiction, contains documentary-style elements. Why did you combine these formats?
Michel Khleifi:
All my films contain a strong relationship between reality and fiction. Indeed, my whole artistic project is based upon the right of the individual to express their subjectivity about the reality that surrounds them. For me the subject is not “inside” us but is born within us as a result of a dialectical relationship between “me” and the “world around me”. Today, in the contemporary world, because of the rapid expansion of the internet, it is as if reality is disappearing slowly. It is a subjective world that dominates us: he who has the power to impose his subjective vision will retain power over the masses!

DD: The central protagonist is a filmmaker in exile within his own homeland, and the atmosphere’s drenched with melancholy and nostalgia. How autobiographical is it, given you’re now based in Belgium?
Michel Khleifi: First of all, this is a film not an autobiography. In fact, it is a sort of dialogue, sometimes a little distant, at other times more burning, with the genre of contemporary cinema and literature that is based on true/fake biographies. What is important is the film’s main proposition, the presentiment it contains and its reading of the way Palestinian reality is going, including the recent assassinations of Juliano Mer-Khamis and Vittorio Arrigoni, which are almost announced in it.

For me, making a film is understanding the logic of a society, whether it is by a filmmaker living in Palestine or in exile. In his Conversations in Exile, Bertolt Brecht wrote that the exiled individual is the dialectical being par excellence, in the sense that he or she is both inside and outside their own society, which allows the necessary distance to develop a lucid view of its developments.

DD: What impact do you think the current upheavals in the Arab world will have on Palestinian filmmaking?
Michel Khleifi: I think we need time to understand where the future will lead us, where we are going. We can film reality as it is, but it’s quite another thing to create a work that will understand it and foresse its future. One thing is sure: a page has been turned in the Arab world. A new conscience is growing among its youth, who, for the first time, are reinventing their own history.

Michel Khleifi's 'Zindeeq' shows at Barbican's Palestine Film Festival at 2.15pm on Saturday April 30 at the Barbican. Buy a ticket HERE