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Ziad Doueiri made one of my favorite films of the 2010s, THE ATTACK (2011), about an apolitical Arab doctor in Israel who finds himself suddenly the object of suspicion by his friends and colleagues when his wife becomes a suicide bomber. His new film, THE INSULT, the Lebanese-born filmmaker takes on a conflict rarely addressed in the West, the status of refugee Palestinians within the Arab world. In a masterful and gripping exercise in storytelling, it starts as a personal exchange between one of those refugees and a Lebanese Christian balloons into a national debate that echoes the still unresolved anguishes of the Lebanese Civil War forty years ago. Douieri’s experiences of living in Beirut during part of the Lebanese Civil War provides him a lens through which to tell this story. His time studying film in America when he left in 1983, gave him the tools.
I spoke with Doueiri, now an American citizen, on November 14, 2017, the day after a rousing screening of his film here in San Francisco, and his detention was the first thing I asked him about, as well as whether or not he can return to Lebanon.
We went on to talk about the genesis of THE INSULT, influenced by his living though the Lebanese Civil War from 1975-1983; what he >didn’t< want this film to be; the primacy of characters over politics; my favorite scene, and how it came to be; the male-female dynamic of the film and of the writing process with his then-wife Joelle Touma; and the consequences of the Lebanese Civil War that continue to reverberate in that country.
We finished up why the film spoke to so many at its screening in Spain; the only non-fiction part of the story; the very different political backgrounds of Douieri and Touma; why Douieri’s mother, who was a legal consultant on the film, stopped feeding him during production; the importance of curiosity coupled with a willingness to start a dialogue; and what he wants his next project to be.
The film has been nominated for an Academy Award, and stars Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Rita Hayek, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueir, Julia Kassar, Rifaat Torbey, and Carlos Chahine. Douieri directed from a script he co-wrote with Joelle Touma, and his previous work includes THE ATTACK and LILA SAYS.