A Familiar Story Could Snag Oscar

By Elissa Strauss

Published February 23, 2007, issue of February 23, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

This year’s list of Oscar nominees is rife with films that make political statements — “Blood Diamond,” “Babel,” “The Queen,” “The Last King of Scotland.” Add to this “West Bank Story,” a film nominated in the “live action short” category. Set in the West Bank, the film is about the eruption of love between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian falafel-stand worker.

Except this one is a comedy. And a musical.

Director and co-writer Ari Sandel said that making such a lighthearted film about a topic this heavy terrified him at first. In fact, the project existed as only a title for five months after he first had the idea; his own doubts, as well as those of practically everyone he knows, got to him.

But Sandel said that, after teaming up with co-writer Kim Ray, he was able to see it in a new light. Together they decided that in order for the film to work, they would have to both simplify the story and, more importantly, illustrate the similarities between Israelis and Arabs. Sandel, who was raised in Los Angeles by his Israeli father, and has made yearly visits to Israel throughout his life, had no trouble tapping into the country’s culture for a little humor. But he wasn’t interested in just making Jews laugh. So in order to make the film fair and funny to Arabs, as well, Sandel and his team consulted in both informal and formal settings with Arabs living in Los Angeles.

“We made sure that for every joke against one side, we had one for the other,” he said. “Likewise, for every endearing or heartfelt moment for the Palestinians, we had to have one for the Israelis. Balance was crucial to staying credible.”

The film, shot in a mock “Arab village” in Santa Clarita, Calif., has received a warm reception from both sides. Copies are now in libraries worldwide, including some in Israel and in Egypt.

Now, Sandel awaits Sunday night, where what was once his ridiculous vision has a shot at an Academy Award. Win or lose, though, Sandel has no plans to stop. “I have a few more Middle Eastern films up my sleeve, I am sure,” he said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.