Scandar Copti's Ajami is considered by many to be a landmark in cinematic history. The film's gripping story, as told through five different viewpoints struck a cord with audiences worldwide and earned Copti and his collaborator Yaron Shani an Oscar nomination.
With a new script in development 'in which nobody dies', Copti currently teaches aspiring filmmakers at Abu Dhabi's NYU from where he tells me about the importance of passing knowledge on to others, yearning for peace in the Middle East and moving on from the overwhelming high of Ajami.
Q Ajami became synonymous with powerful use on non professional actors and judging by your sell out seminars on the subject, I can tell you are a highly sought after tutor
A I teach new methods of working with non actors and enjoy sharing my knowhow with others. Teaching is part of my personality and goes naturally with the filmmaking experience. Unlike painting which can be quite solitary, filmmaking is about teamwork and close collaboration with others. It is important to me as a filmmaker not to just take but to also give back.
Q Ajami is a groundbreaking film with a message that spread like wildfire around the world, did its incredible reception take you and Yaron by surprise?
A Yaron Shani and I made the film because we felt we had an important story to tell, a story from our everyday life. We wanted to show conflicting viewpoints and to prove the philosophy that it is important to see reality from a different perspective. What we did is show perspectives which collide with others so you end up not knowing who to sympathize with.
We had a story with a universal message, one that touches the human condition regardless of where we come from. It was important not to patronize by claiming you know better but to say that there is not one way of seeing the political situation and there are many shades of gray.
Q Was the five stories structure difficult to build and keep track of?
A It was quite straight forward but don't forget it took us three and a half years to write the story. The film proved that audiences are capable of following all protagonists, all we did is create empathy to the different heroes.
I started working with Yaron in 2001 and Ajami was released years later in 2009 so as you can see it was a long time in the making.
Q Where did the funding for the film come from?
A We raised funding ourselves via the Israeli Film Fund but 60% of the budget actually came from Germany.
Q Were you surprised the Israeli film Fund supported you in light of the film's political content or were you confident they will be open minded and concentrate on the script?
A We knew the fund will be open minded and not be troubled by the political issues raised. The Israeli Film Fund has supported many 'politically charged' films.
It all boils down to personal artistic taste, after all who is to say what is a good film? it is a matter of taste for the Israeli Film Fund just as it is for anyone else. In fact, we applied but failed to get funding first time, we submitted the same script again and got the funding.
Q Rejection is particularly tough for creatives who cannot help but take it very personally
A Yes. Artistic rejection is different and criticism is hard to take when you are a creative person trying to make your way in the world. It is important to remember that it is all subjective and is a matter of personal taste.
A student has recently mentioned a certain film she just saw and described it as an amazing masterpiece. I didn't share her view of this particular film and just said I did not see it the same way and that it is perfectly natural. There does not need to be consensus about what makes a great movie.
The media is full of certain people deciding what makes a particular piece of art a classic; the critics are just a way of putting some order in the huge 'information chaos'. The written word is powerful and we all tend to believe what we read, people read that a particular film is considered the best film ever and just pass this declaration on, it is magnified and seen as some sort of ultimate truth.
I actually presented what is considered to be 'the best film in the world ever' to my students to find that many disagreed with the statement and thought of other films which made a greater impression on them so you see it is all a matter of taste and where we are in our personal life.
Q Why do so many brilliant films come from Israel?
A Besides the fact that there are many talented people in Israel, a conflicted area supplies plenty of drama.
Q Are you hopeful about the current peace talks?
A Like many people in Israel I am tired of the political situation but I do care. I just don't want to have high hopes and be disappointed. I say just bring the peace to me when you get there.