From Julian Schnabel, director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Before Night Falls and Basquiat, comes Miral, the visceral, first-person diary of a young girl growing up in East Jerusalem as she confronts the effects of occupation and war in every corner of her life. Like his paintings made out of shards, Schnabel pieces together momentary fragments of Miral's world -- how she was formed, who influenced her, all that she experiences in her tumultuous early years -- to create a raw, moving, poetic portrait of a woman whose small, personal story is inextricably woven into the bigger history unfolding all around her.
Miral's story, which shifts sinuously through layers of time and emotions, begins with the woman who will become her teacher: Hind Husseini (HIAM ABBASS, The Visitor, Amreeka), who in 1948 turned her father's home into the Dar Al-Tifel Institute, an orphanage and school for Palestinian children. What would you do if you found 55 orphans wandering the streets in the middle of a war? For Hind, the answer was to protect them, draw a line around them and make a safe haven where they could not be harmed, and where they could learn in safety and begin to imagine a more peaceful world.
In 1978, 30 years after Hind starts her school, a 5 year-old girl arrives at the Institute in the wake of her mother's heartbreaking death. This is Miral (FREIDA PINTO, Slumdog Millionaire), and this is her story. She will grow up sheltered inside the protective walls of Dar Al-Tifl, but then, at the age of 16, on the cusp of the Intifada, Miral is assigned to teach at a refugee camp where she is awakened to the anger and struggles that seem to be her legacy. When she falls for a fervent political activist, Hani (OMAR METWALLY, Munich, Rendition), Miral is drawn into a personal dilemma: to choose a path of violence or to follow Mama Hind's hard-fought belief that education is the only way to pursue lasting peace.
The screenplay is by Rula Jebreal, based on her book of the same name.
The movie is based on a book called Miral, written by Rula Jebreal. When I read it, I saw it as a movie and I felt compelled to tell the story. It's a story about education, it's about love, it's about people and it's about hope. It tells the personal stories of 4 Arab-Israeli women against the backdrop of the regions complex political reality from the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 to the hope of the Oslo peace agreement in 1994.
The first of these is Hind Husseini, a woman who devoted her life to orphans. When she witnessed 55 children left in the streets of Jerusalem in 1948, she started the "Dar Al Tifl" orphanage, which has been home to more than 3000 girls. She financed it initially with her own money, whatever she had left of her family's properties; creating an oasis for young Palestinian girls. I think there's a huge difference between a child that grows up in this atmosphere and one that grows up in a refugee camp separating them from the world by a cement wall. In this story we see both worlds.
Miral is a young girl who was educated at Dar Al Tifl. She is the unpredictable result of Hind's love and education, as well as the recipient of her family's difficult legacy. Early in the script, it says, "Miral is a red flower that grows on the side of the road. You've probably seen millions of them." Most people drive down the road not noticing their beauty.
I've been following the story of Israel my whole life. As a child, in New York City, I watched Exodus at the Rivoli Theatre with my parents. Everybody stood up when they sang Hatikvah and put their hands on their chests. My mother and father were very, very proud. They were involved in "Hadasa" and the "B'nai Brith." I had an exhibition of paintings at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem twenty years ago. They were planning to come but didn't because the Intifada started.
I didn't know much about Palestinian people until I read Rula's book. I'm not a political expert. I'm not trying to be. We're working during a period of time, from 1948 to 1994, when these characters lived through historic moments and created historic moments. It's their story.
JULIAN SCHNABEL (Director) was born in New York City in 1951. In 1965 he moved with his family to Brownsville, Texas. He attended the University of Houston from 1969-1973, receiving a BFA, and returned to New York to participate in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.
In 1978 Schnabel traveled throughout Europe and in Barcelona was particularly moved by the architecture of Antonio Gaudi, the same year he made his first plate painting, "The Patients and the Doctors." His first solo painting exhibition took place at the Mary Boone Gallery, New York City, in February 1979.
Schnabel's work has been exhibited all over the world. His paintings, sculptures and works on paper have been the subject of retrospective exhibitions at The Tate Gallery in London, The Foundation Joan Miro in Barcelona, the Palazzo Venezia in Rome and the Beijing World Art Museum, among others.
His work is included in the public collections of numerous museums , including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, The National Gallery in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
In 1996 he wrote and directed the feature film Basquiat about fellow New York artist Jean Michel Basquiat. The film was distributed world wide by Miramax films and was in the official selection of the 1996 Venice Film Festival. Schnabel's second film, Before Night Falls, based on the life of the late exiled Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Colpa Volpi for best actor for Javier Bardem at the Venice Film Festival 2000. Named to over 100 year-end top ten lists, Bardem's portrayal in Before Night Falls earned him both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for best actor. In 2007, Schnabel directed his third film, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. He was awarded "Best Director" at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director. Schnabel also directed the documentary Berlin, which captured Lou Reed's only performance of his commercially failed yet masterwork album about jealousy, rage and loss, at St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn in 2006. Julian Schnabel lives and works in New York City and Montauk, Long Island.
Each story told in my book and in this movie is true. I changed names, I combined events, I merged different personalities and characters -- but everything is true. There's no space for imagination in the Middle East. You can only tell what you've seen through your own eyes. Every day, this place makes you decide who you are and what you have to do. It's something that's imposed on you.
After I left Jerusalem for Europe, I felt that my memories, my identity, had been stolen away. I understood that I had to tell my story, I had to connect my past with my future, not only because it was important to me, but because there are so many girls who have gone through and are still going through these same things. Miral is partially me . . . but she's also all of these girls. I wrote this book for my children, for my daughter Miral, and for all the other Mirals who still live in Jerusalem.
For Julian, in turning the book into a film, the most important thing was to keep the honesty of these stories and characters. He asked me so many questions -- who, where, what and why. He tried to grasp the subject in all its depth. When we started scouting the locations and casting the movie, he wanted to go everywhere. He wanted to see everything with his own eyes, he wanted to talk to people of every perspective. We went to Ramallah, to Jaffa, to the refugee camps. He wanted to understand the inner conflicts that split the Palestinians. Before each take, he would always ask me: "Is this authentic?"
Like Miral, there came a turning point for me at which I felt I had to get involved. But today, I can say that the love and values I received from Hind Husseini -- who believed in the virtues of education -- saved my life. Later, I had the opportunity as a journalist witnessing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to understand that education is indeed the best weapon. This is what the movie, what Miral's life, reveals. It shows how education can dismantle and disarm fanaticism.
It seems so often these days that the solutions considered are military -- and yet, the only real hope for ordinary people trying to lead real lives is diplomacy and peace.
RULA JEBREAL (Screenplay Writer/Author) was born in 1973 in Haifa, Israel, and spent her early years living in East Jerusalem with her family. After her mother's death, when Jebreal was five, she entered the Dar Al Tifel orphanage and school; she remained there, receiving her diploma in 1991.
A scholarship from the Italian government to study medicine, in 1993,took her to the University of Bologna, where she graduated with a degree in physiotherapy; soon afterwards an accident at the hospital where she was working left her temporarily immobilized, so she returned to college to study journalism. During this period Jebreal began to work for Italian newspapers, including IL Resto del Carlino, IL Giorno e La Nazione, and IL Messaggero, specializing in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the growth of Islamic fundamentalism.
In 2000 Jebreal became the first foreign anchorwoman in Italy to broadcast the evening news on national TV. Appearing on both national stations (such as Rai 1, Rai 2, and Rai 24) and private stations (Channel 7), she has established herself as one of Italy's leading television authorities on foreign affairs, particularly those pertaining to the Middle-East crisis. From 2004 to the present, Jebreal has hosted numerous high profile Italian television programs including: Omnibus (2004), her daily talk show during which she interviewed the most well-known personalities and political figures in Italy and the Arab world, including Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Palestinian President Abu Mazen and Nobel prize-winner Mohammad El Baradei; Anna Zero (2006) the most important, controversial, political talk show in Italy, which she co-presented with Michele Santoro; and Gate of the Sun,(2009) which she produced and broadcast from Egypt.
Jebreal has been given numerous awards for her coverage of International Affairs including: from Media Watch in 2004 for her coverage of the Iraq war; and the International Ischia Award for Journalist of the Year in 2005.
Jebreal is the author of The Bride d'Assuan (which was awarded the International Fenice Europe Prize), Divieto di soggiorno (a study on the history of immigration in Europe), and her best known work, Miral, (the story of 4 Palestinian women). Miral has also been turned into a film, directed by the artist Julian Schnabel, with the screenplay by Jebreal; the movie will premier at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.Jebreal speaks Arabic, Italian, English, and Hebrew; she lives in New York City.
About the Film
"Miral is a red flower. It grows on the side of the road. You've probably seen millions of them."
Few topics rouse as much heat, passion and fury as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and few films dare to broach the territory from any angle. But with Miral, Julian Schnabel comes at it entirely through the human dimension, using the backdrop of a half-century of conflict to tell the story of four different women who find desperation and courage, defiance and generosity, grief and wisdom, fear and love as they try to alternately survive, confront and remake a shattered world. Set in the period from 1948 to 1994, the film's interwoven threads trace the contours of history from the establishment of the Israeli state through the end of the deadly first Intifada and the momentary promise of the Oslo Accords - all through the intensely personal, boundary-breaking view of a young Palestinian girl's eyes.
Miral is Schnabel's fifth feature film. Although he is best known as one of America's most acclaimed living painters, he has also established a reputation as a filmmaker who evokes the humanity, emotion and beauty lurking in the torn and broken fabric of modern life. His films -- including Basquiat, a portrait of the tragic 1980s New York artist; Before Night Falls, a biography of the persecuted Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, for which Javier Bardem received both Academy Award® and Golden Globe® nominations; and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, the multiple Oscar®-nominated story of a paralyzed writer's spiritual triumph -- each present an immediate, close-in, first-person POV that leaves no barrier between image and feeling, and allows the audience to penetrate the characters and experience the stories on a profound personal level. Miral takes the same path.
Schnabel was drawn to the story of Miral as soon as he read Rula Jebreal's book of the same name. Jebreal had peeled back the curtain on the emotional reality of everyday life among displaced Palestinians, in a way Schnabel had never experienced. She wrote of the private, inner effects of violence, shame, dispossession and uncertainty on women who just wanted to live and love like any of us. It altered the way Schnabel saw the world.
He felt a need to tell this largely untold story, to give Miral her own cinematic voice - even if it is just one of many voices of those caught in this conflict. Schnabel also felt it was something cinema was specifically suited to address at a root emotional level - with the camera able to lay bare the contrasts of love and fear, anger and exhilaration, claustrophobia and yearning for freedom that mark Miral's daily existence.
"I thought 'if I'm going to use this medium, this is what I am supposed to do with it,'" Schnabel says. "I felt it was my responsibility to make this film as an artist and as a human being. I was thinking of films like The Battle of Algiers and El Salvador - and how I really thought about the issues in those films after seeing them - and I wanted to do that with this story. Miral is a single young girl among millions, but she is also the inheritor of all the pressures, anxieties and hopes that the Palestinian people have accumulated over four decades. Her story is not about the details of historical events, but what is felt within the body and heart."
The raw honesty of author and screenwriter Rula Jebreal's characters emerged from the fact that Miral's story so closely mirrors her own - which in turn mirrors the lives of so many others living in the occupied territories of the Middle East.
Like Miral, Jebreal was once an orphan in tragic circumstances whose life was turned around in Hind Husseini's school - and like Miral, she made the ultimate decision to pursue education over bloodshed. Tackling the film's adaptation would take Jebreal reeling back into her most fragile memories and feelings. "When you write a book, it's an individual process and you put your soul into it. But when you turn that into a movie, you are then exposed to many more questions, discussions and debates," she explains. "Working with Julian pushed me to rediscover memories that I had not lost but that were no longer in my head and heart. The debates we had made each character bigger, deeper and stronger. It was a beautiful adventure."
Throughout the process, Schnabel continually pushed her to go deeper. "My job was like that of a detective, to help Rula confront her past with complete honesty and leave nothing out," he says.
Knowing that very few have seen this perspective on film before, Schnabel wanted to approach it without preconceptions. He was interested to learn more about the mind-set that develops among everyday people who are living daily in a quasi-permanent state of war. "How do you grow up in a world that appears to have no future? What choices are you tempted by? How do you handle shame and anger? How do you walk away? These were all questions that Rula had to face and that we had to talk about," says Schnabel.
Writing the screenplay with such vulnerability and openness also became a chance for Jebreal to give gratitude to Hind Husseini, who was such an important force in her own life and remains a heroine to many women, Palestinian and otherwise. "Hind was my mentor, my mother. She is a part of my brain and my heart, and my conscience," Jebreal says. "She gave me the faith that there is nothing that cannot be done, that anything can be accomplished with hard work, study and dignity. I hope that this movie will honor her and the place that she left."
For Jebreal, one of her most profound hopes is that the film will reawaken the passion that allowed a woman such as Hind Husseini to help so many children move ahead in their lives and transcend the brutality and oppression around them.
"I look at my school today and am so sad, because now there are only 30 children left in the boarding school. There are girls and boys, orphans like me, like I was in Gaza, who are just waiting for somebody to come help them," Jebreal points out. "For now, they cannot come to the school, to be educated, and to have hope for the future. For me, it is essential that we continue Hind's project and provide new hope for many girls, for many generations."
Jebreal took Julian Schnabel on a scouting journey through Israel that had a deep impact on him and ultimately on the film's textured mix of imagery, sound and landscape. "This is a story surrounded by historic, concrete events. But it is also expressionistic and highly subjective," Schnabel says.
In one of the film's most gripping scenes, the nurse Fatima carries a bomb into a movie theater - which Schnabel decided would be showing Roman Polanski's 1965 obsessive thriller, Repulsion. The director intercuts the frightened faces of the spectators, the abject terror of Repulsion's central character, and of a desperate Fatima in a sequence that reveals an ordinary woman, in an instant of time, transforming into a killer. Read more
Cast and Characters
The story of Miral begins with a woman whose act of kindness changes the lives of generations of children. This is Hind Husseini, who was a 31 year-old educator and women's activist in 1948 when hostilities between displaced Palestinians, Arabs and the new nation of Israel led to war. On April 9th, the air still resounding with gunfire, Hind ventured out of her home to walk through her East Jerusalem neighborhood. It was then that she happened upon dozens of shivering, traumatized children who had been orphaned by a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin - and left to fend for themselves. Compelled to help them, she took them all in, soon moving them to an elegant 19th Century mansion her grandfather had built, where she fed and sheltered them. Then, seeing that wasn't enough, she began to teach them.Read more
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