Julian Schnabel has succeeded in two fields that are notoriously difficult to making a living at. In the early 80s (with Schnabel in his early 30s), he burst from New York's art scene as an important new talent and went on to see his paintings displayed in the world's greatest museums. Schnabel then took on film as a hobby, becoming one of those rare directors that simply hasn't made a bad movie, with each film -- Basquiat (1996), Before Night Falls (2000) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) -- earning more awards and nominations than its predecessor.
So now Schnabel has taken on a real challenge: making a movie about a teenage Palestinian girl. As Schnabel told me, "I think the thing I didn't know or had a feeling about was how controversial it would be to make a movie about Palestinian people. Because it seems like you can make a movie about anybody but them."
But he added, "And that seemed to be the reason why I made it."
Schnabel's new film, Miral (trailer here), presents the lives of four Palestinian women living in East Jerusalem after the violent creation of Israel in 1948, with most of the film focusing on a sixteen-year-old girl named Miral (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire). Miral's sheltered life within the walls of the Dar Al-Tifel orphanage/school is shattered in 1987 by the Intifada, and she must choose between violent resistance against Israel with her activist boyfriend (Omar Hetwally) or the peaceful route of education advocated by the founder of Dar Al-Tifel, Hind Husseini (The Visitor's Hiam Abbass). Miral is based on an autobiographical book by Rula Jebreal, with whom Schnabel is in a relationship not that it matters).
A special screening of Miral at the United Nations drew protests from Israel's UN delegation, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League for the film's depictions of Israeli forces firing on protesters, beating prisoners and destroying homes. They acknowledged that such actions did occur, but were upset that they were shown without explaining the justifications for them.
I met Schnabel, who is Jewish, in a well-appointed corner office overlooking Hollywood Blvd. and out onto hills, streets and sky drenched clean by torrential rains. We talked about the controversy surrounding the film, whether Miral is "anti-Israel," Schnabel's experiences filming in Israel and Palestine, and a lot more.
Watch my ReThink Interview with Julian Schnabel below.
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