'West Bank' Musical Comedy Wins Oscar

Director Says Award Validates Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

By Elissa Strauss

Published February 26, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.

“West Bank Story,” a musical comedy about the eruption of love between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian falafel-stand worker, won this year’s Academy Award for best live short.

“To be able to get this award just goes to show that there are so many people out there that support that notion that when it comes to a situation between Israelis and Palestinians hope is not hopeless,” said director and co-wrier Ari Sandel, upon winning the award.

In an earlier interview with the Forward, 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, a board member of the dovish group Americans for Peace Now – 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.

Prior to Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, Sandel told the Forward that win or lose, he had no plans to stop. “I have a few more Middle Eastern films up my sleeve,” he said. “I am sure.”



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