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You have spoken in the past about not wanting to be seen purely as a political filmmaker, and not wanting to see the world in black and white.
The best movies I’ve seen are movies that challenge my beliefs, and make me question my moral judgment, or political judgment, any judgment. This is why I want to make movies that will challenge me. And if you make characters who are completely good or completely wrong you will not challenge anything or anyone.
In “Omar,” the characters are mostly just extremely naive, and young. With the exception of one, an elderly man who makes a small but moving cameo towards the end, and of course the Secret Service agent seeking to turn Omar into an informant, there are almost no elders, or even adults, in the whole movie. Was this intentional?
The parents of these kids were all revolutionaries. But they failed. You know the ’60s. In the ’60s everyone was a revolutionary, not just in Palestine. And after you’ve failed, and you’re disappointed, you don’t have the courage to tell the kids what to do. You failed to protect him, to bring him a better life. So you become absent. You no longer believe you can offer wisdom to the new generation. And especially in refugee camps, this new generation is truly lost. Yes, even the act of violence which first lands Omar and his friends in trouble seems motivated more by a sense of adolescent recklessness than political fury. Resistance is a choice, and it’s a valid one, but in order to resist, you have to have some sort of strategy, a sense of what moves the other side will make as you make yours. In our situation, revolutionary resistors did not bring their experience to the next generation, and now the next generation is starting from zero. I wanted to turn my attention to that.
Is capturing this youthful predicament part of why you have so few professionals in the cast?
I didn’t have a principle of wanting to work with just professionals or non-professionals. I wanted people who would give me the feeling that they could be honest with his character. Inexperienced actors are more malleable and you can mold them, but you also have a sense that they could break at any second. Which is what I love about them, because you want to get this purity that looks very solid and you can get just one time. I believe that every actor will be only be truly pure in his emotions once in his life, because after that every time, he will always be acting. And with these young actors, it was almost as if I took their virginity as actors — it’s so good to see.