Riyad Deis, the bizarre side of Palestinian life
West Bank film-maker Riyad Deis hopes to address his work at ordinary Palestinians, as well as the local elite and European audiences. His feature Heatwave finds the bizarre in the lives of Jerusalem residents who yearn for normality.
An established TV-documentary maker, Riyad Deis is the TV unit coordinator organising cinema and TV workshops at the West Bank's Bir Zeit Unviersity.
“I’m part of a group of filmmakers who are aware that Palestinian cinema is a powerful tool for expressing our point of view," he says. "I want the audience to see films that are entertaining and creative and I want them to get the story that is coming from my country.”
In May 2012, he landed up at the Cannes Film Festival in France with the Cinémas du Monde delegation, as he was preparing his first feature film.
As an intermediary step, between information and fully fledged fiction, Deis had made a 40-minute creative documentary,
“Palestinian cinema, cinema which comes from conflict areas is more realistic,” he says. “Fiction is more about feeling than information. It’s about senses. And you cannot interpret senses but in a creative way.”
The feature project which earned Deis the ticket to Cannes, is Heatwave.
The action takes place around five characters from the Old City of Jerusalem who would like to live a quiet life, but things Deis describes as “bizarre” happen to them every day.
Bizarre but not completely imaginary. The events in a script co-written with Bahreini writer Farid Ramadan are based on Deis's own experiences or those of people he knows.
Ideas about film and about cinema among Palestinian filmmakers are changing. Deis is an instrument of the change.
“Of course I’m influenced by Elia [Suleiman] but I think it’s a natural evolution of Palestinian cinema where we get to a point where we cannot tell our stories in the same format. It’s actually a more honest way to tell our stories, because there’s so much comedy and sarcasm in people’s lives and… in their difficult circumstances.”
It is also time to rethink the relationship with the audience, says the filmmaker.
Palestinians have been aiming their films at European audiences and the Palestinian elite, he remarks, not only for communication purposes but also because distribution in the Palestinian territories is inadequate.
“Palestinian audiences feel in a way alienated by Palestinian films," he believes. "It’s an obstacle to try to find a middle way, to make films for the local person, and the elite, and the audience in Europe.”
Deis hopes he has found the right formula with his project.
“Unusual weather, unusual stories and unusual location. I hope I will have an interesting film where really Palestinians will feel it represents them and Europeans will enjoy a film from this region.”
Technological changes are taking place in Palestinian filmmaking, as they are elsewhere.
Young Palestinians are starting to learn, thanks to Deis’s and other workshops, about making films on their mobile phones. Taking a leaf out of his own book, he intends to apply his low-cost lessons to his project.
“I’m definitely going to shoot in digital, on HD. Even if I have the budget to shoot in 35mm. I want to break the ground for low budget films.”
While Deis is nearing his goal of telling his dream on film, his head is not in the clouds.
“Cinema is a difficult field anywhere in the world, it’s a long, difficult process and whoever enters this field should be aware of it," he says. "This is the trip”.