Hany Abu-Assad

Zomergasten ("summer guests") is a strange show. It aspires both to show someone's "ideal TV night" and to interview them during three long hours face to face with an interviewer who is himself/herself also a public figure. This year, the interviewer is again Joris Luyendijk, and while I don't think he's that extrordinary most of the time, he was quite good tonight, interviewing Hany Abu-Assad, the director of the acclaimed "Paradise Now".

Abu-Assad is a Palestinian with the Israeli nationality who came to the Netherlands when he was 18 to study aircraft engineering. His TV-night? Many film fragments, but none of them from the town where he's now working, Hollywood: fragments from Once Upon a Time in the West, Rosetta, a Polish movie, two Egyption movies. Some TV fragments too: from documentaries (The BBC doc The Power of Nightmares) to news footage of Arafat.

Three hours is a long time, and as usual my thoughts wandered, but there were interesting points. Abu-Assad believes democracy has failed as a system, for instance (I personally agree with Churchill that democracy is a wretched system, but it's the best one we know), and he had some very interesting thoughts on the barrier between fact and fiction, in particular the trustworthiness of the documentary as a medium.

There was a controversy when it was found that Abu-Assad had staged a scene in his doc Ford Transit. He was unapologetic about it, because, he argued "this does happen", and furthermore it was not fiction since the camera was acknowledged. I think this argument is rather dodgy, but it does raise some interesting questions. We tend to see documentaries as a more objective form of film making than fiction, but this is of course nonsense: no doc is ever truly objective, even when the makers try, and fiction films can sometimes get closer to the true nature of something than any doc ever could. Still, there is this expectation viewers put on the medium, and it's always worth challenging those viewers, shocking us into being more critical spectators.

It was an interesting night, even if it was in a problematic format. Really getting to know someone in three hours, through their choices of fragments or their answers, is of course an illusion, but Abu-Assad's mind is an interesting one to get a glimpse of.

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