Two Meters of This Land: An interview with a Palestinian director
Interview by Katy Gillett – December 24, 2011
In Ramallah, Palestine producer and director Ahmad Natche has been making a film with a bunch of non-professional actors about life behind a music festival in Palestine.
What is the film about?
The film shows what happens a summer evening in an outdoor theatre of Ramallah (West Bank), where a popular music concert is being prepared. A gallery of journalists, technicians and artists meet there some hours before the show. All the action takes place in that same location during one single evening.
This could be considered not dramatic enough for a feature narrative movie but I always thought that the important thing is not the story but the way of showing or “writing” the reality. You only have to look carefully to notice many things and conflicts in a simple situation. And of course, the film is primarily a portrait of the daily life in Palestine.
What inspired it?
One year before the film shooting I worked in Jerusalem and Ramallah while I was trying to get ideas for a feature film. Summer is the time for outdoor music festivals in Palestine (in Bethlehem, Birzeit, Ramallah, Jerusalem) and I visited many of them. I always arrived some hours before the beginning of the show, at the rehearsals. I felt that a film could communicate some relevant aspects of the Palestinian people.
That same summer, the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish died and he was buried at the summit of a Ramallah hill, very close to the outdoor theatre I set as the location for my film. I also decided to use one of his poems for the title. In the last lines of “Mural”, he talks about the piece of territory he would need the day he died: “Two meters of this land are enough for me for now”. Since I wanted to make a film about one particular space of Palestine, it seemed to me a dramatic metaphor of the Palestinian struggle for a place to live or to die.
Why did you make it?
I was born in Spain to a Palestinian father and I didn’t visit his native country until I was 20 years old. Discovering the land and people of Palestine, and their problems, was a complete revelation for me. I felt it very far and very close at the same time. I committed to the Palestinian cause since then in the way I thought I could contribute to the cause better; with images and sounds. I just want to offer my views on some aspects of the Palestinian reality because I hope it may be useful to other people.
Have you made any films before?
Since I can remember, I always felt drawn to drawing, writing and cinema but I began to take it seriously when I watched Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” on TV. Since then, I read everything I could about the filmmaker – silent movies and film history. It sounds a bit bizarre but Chaplin and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein became my teenage heroes, while I shot some homemade short films with a video camera. I studied at university and I majored in Film Editing in the International Film School of Cuba. I work mainly as a film and TV editor, I directed some short films in Palestine, Cuba and Spain. This is my first feature film. I’ve also worked as a film critic.
Can you tell us a bit about the actors involved in the film
I liked to stay as close to reality as possible, so the actors are non-professionals living in Ramallah and Jerusalem. They are playing themselves or some character of a very similar condition. I met most of them the year before in the same situations they represent in the movie.
What companies supported the making of the film?
I tried to find funding for the film production in Spain, but it’s difficult to get it for an independent low-budget movie like this. I finally got the modest but essential support of Al Quds TV (the Ramallah educational television) and the “Jerusalem 2009: Capital of Arab Culture” Foundation, that made possible the shooting. Many other people in the West Bank were a great help during the production.
Was it hard to make? How were you restricted?
Since this is my first feature both as director and producer, I tried to conceive this film in a very economical and ecological way, minimizing the expenses and the difficulty of the production work. We were a small crew – only seven persons – and we worked in a single location. This allowed us not to worry so much about logistics and concentrate on our film work. The most difficult thing was not to interfere with the real event that we used as the setting for our fiction, so we had to be careful sometimes. But we received a great support from the music festival.
What can you tell us about the arts/film industry in Palestine?
I’ve seen many non-industrial Palestinian films and I’m very excited every time I discover a new one. I also screened some of them in Madrid. Unfortunately it’s difficult to access to most of these works. I believe it’s important to provide many different sights as possible on Palestinian society through art, to implant a stronger and more complex identity.
How much does it mean to you to get this film completed?
For me it will be the completion of a three year effort, and hopefully a little contribution to show a face of Palestine that has no place in the media.
Describe Palestine in three words.
Justice, friendship, home.