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Cultural Embassy

Hany Abu-Assad - Film Director

Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad is in Amsterdam for the Shortcutz annual film awards and a guest of the Cultural Embassy. No stranger to awards, Abu-Assad is an Academy Award nominee and a Golden Globe winner amongst many more accolades. His latest film, The Idol (2015), currently showing at the Rotterdam Film Festival, was shot on location in Gaza and tells the tender real life story of 23-year-old Mohammed Assaf, winner of the Arab Idol in 2013.

Where do you call home?
Nazareth, Palestine. But, previously I lived in Amsterdam for 25 years and there’s where I met Otto [Otto Nan, Managing Director of the Lloyd Hotel], at the old cinema Alfa.

You were once an engineer?
When I was working as an engineer it wasn’t the life I wanted, I wanted something more adventurous. I like to take risks, in engineering there are no risks, in art you always take risks. When you take risks as an artist your work becomes more effective and emotional.

In 2006, Abu-Assad's film Paradise Now won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and received an Oscar-nomination in the same category. In 2005 Paradise Now won the Golden Calf for best Dutch film.

"You come with a $2m movie, it's a subject that nobody wants to hear about. It was a joke. It was a joke that I was even nominated. Suddenly you hear your name. I stood there like I didn't know exactly what to say. But when they called Palestine, it was like, wow. Palestine is not even a state yet, it's a proposal. And here I am standing in front of the glamorous part of Hollywood representing a proposal" (Hany Abu-Assad quoted in The Guardian newspaper after the awards).

How did you make your first film Paper House?
I met a film director by accident and became his assistant. I helped him a lot in making movies until I realised I wanted to try be a director. I wrote a short script, my first one, and from the money I earned and some subsidies (Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst) I made the film. It’s a personal kind of traumatic story that stayed with me for many years. It was about a paper house I built as a child that I put all my energy and creativity into it and the moment I finished it my mother destroyed it. There is a back story, she was angry because I hadn’t told her where I was for two days….

How do you think your films contribute to the Palestinian film industry?
I contribute enormously because there is no “industry”. I am hoping that other directors will make better movies and that they will continue the path that I just opened, and I am not alone, before me there were other directors like Michel Khleif (Wedding in Galilee) and Rashid Masharawi (Laila's Birthday (2008), Palestine Stereo (2013)).

Paradise Now (2005) directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is about two Palestinian men preparing for a suicide attack in Israel.

What keeps you busy right now?
I am developing different projects, because nowadays you can’t survive without having multiple projects on the go at the same time, waiting for something to be “green lit”.

What is the common thread in all your films?
The reluctant hero, all of my characters are ordinary people forced to become heroes. In a way it could be about me, I wish I had a less complicated life.

What was the last thing you photographed?
I don’t photograph things on my phone, because I think images should stay in your mind not registered on the camera. I like to take images in my mind. So the last thing I photographed was the rent bill, as a reminder to pay it.

(images courtesy of and