Casually clad in a black tee shirt and jeans over his stocky 59-year-old frame, Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis radiates a warm friendliness. He responds to questions with rapid-fire musings that rise above the din of the lunchtime crowd at a popular Manhattan restaurant, in nearly unaccented American English.
What brought him together with The Arty Semite is his latest film, “Zaytoun,” opening in New York on September 20, to be followed by a national release. With “Zaytoun,” Riklis returns to the Arab-Israeli issues that mark his best-known works, including “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree.” “Zaytoun” is the tale of an Israeli fighter pilot, shot down and captured by Palestinians in Beirut on the eve of the 1982 Lebanon war, and who forms an unlikely alliance with a remarkable adolescent boy from the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila.
Riklis began our conversation by explaining how the story developed from the draft of a screenplay by a Palestinian-American electrical engineer, Nader Rizq, who had labored for years on this first script. It reached him through Fred Ritzenberg (who became one of his producers), but Riklis had initially rejected it out of fatigue with Israeli-Arab themes.
Ralph Seliger: So it was a screenplay to begin with.
Eran Riklis: Yes, and not at my own initiative, which is quite rare. But at some point we decided we could work together on the next draft. Writing a screenplay is like adopting a child; at some point it becomes your own, through a process of discovery. The script was fully written by Nader Rizq. I, as always, was involved in shaping the drafts that evolved once I joined the project.
Is any part of it factual?