Talking with Julian Schnabel about Miral
by Daniel Engelke
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A few days ago I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite contemporary directors, Julian Schnabel, about his latest film, Miral. The visionary director’s new film tells the story of a young Palestinian girl growing up during the Arab-Isreali conflict. Lead by Frieda Pinto, the film’s Arab narrative is another great chapter in Schnabel’s career.
Hi, Julian. Nice to meet you. I was just able to see the film last night, so it’s fresh on my mind. I’ll just jump right in. What I like about your filmmaking is the dreamlike aspect, like Diving Bell in the Butterfly and Before Night Falls. What elements from these films and possibly new techniques have you put into Miral?
Julian Schnabel: Well, landscape is very important to me. With Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I felt that it couldn’t be made in a Los Angeles soundstage. It was a French story that had to be done in France. The same goes for Miral. I felt it was important to shoot in Jerusalem and Ramallah. That particular environment puts a lot of pressure on its inhabitants. Along with Laurie Anderson’s wonderfully off kilter violin, the location of Miral and my other films can’t be understated.
While Miral does have a political message, the film tends to transcend any one label. As you’ve mentioned before, part of the inspiration of Mira was to make a Palestinian narrative. As a Jewish male was it difficult to portray the “other side?”
Julian Schnabel: Well, it was actually a beautiful thing. When I was shooting in Ramallah, a young guy grabbed the megaphone and said, “Let’s give this man everything we can because he’s trying to help us.” That’s what really got me. Instead of seeing a Jewish person as a solider, they saw a person who was interested in respecting them and hearing what they had to say. This worked on the other side, as well; the Israeli crew was mixed with Palestinians and no one argued. It’s hard to disagree with Miral’s message of adolescence and family. Obviously, there is a lot of tension on both sides, but most of these people didn’t create the conflict, they inherited it. Miral’s interior story is one that we all face in our lives. It’s the exterior that causes conflict. There has to be meeting somewhere in the middle so we can start having a dialogue and stop having a monologue.
As we mentioned before, you prefer to make films strictly on location. You joked in a previous interview that people thought you were French after Diving Bell and the Butterfly was made. What is it about the locations that make “shooting in an LA soundstage” impossible?
Julian Schnabel: I think I realized I was one of those Americans who traveled around a lot and came back not necessarily without a flag, but with a different view on how the world works. When I made Before Night Falls, people thought I made a Cuban movie. After The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it was assumed I made a French film. The input from the people of my past, my present company, and the places I’ve lived tend to weave their way into production. I don’t want my productions to appear like a tourist’s view, but rather that it was made by its citizens.
And just because I’m a film nerd and curious: Besides Miral’s source material, can you cite any other films or director’s you thought of during production?
Julian Schnabel: Ah, I thought a lot about Preminger. I thought this was the sequel to Exodus (chuckles). Also Antonioni. It’s hard to get away from him when I get behind the camera. I try to make films that are alive. I don’t want them to be put on a shelf when they’re finished.
Awesome. Thank you, Julian.
Daniel Engelke is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s Film & Video program. He resides in New York as a freelance writer and videographer. With expertise in French & British New Wave Cinema and Italian Neo-Realism, Daniel also works as a director and intern for Edward Bass Films.
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