Editor's Note: Budrus, which opened October 8 in New York through Balcony Releasing, continues its theatrical rollout this month, with premieres in Los Angeles on October 22 and Washington, DC on October 29. Here is an interview with director/producer/writer Julia Bacha, which ran when the film screened as part of IDA's DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase this past summer.
Over the past couple of weeks, we at IDA have been introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from July 30 through August 19 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Julia Bacha, director/producer/writer of Budrus.
Synopsis: Ayed Morrar took leave of his comfortable job at the Palestinian Authority upon hearing that the Israeli government was planning to build a separation barrier through Budrus, his small agricultural village. He convened a town-hall meeting, invited Israeli civilians, and formed a movement whose motto, "We Can Do It," resonates with community organizers worldwide. To everyone's surprise, Ayed became the leader of the first unarmed movement to successfully protect and even expand Palestinian territory--an accomplishment made possible in large part by Ayed's 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, who launched a women's contingent that quickly moved to the front lines.
IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Julia Bacha: I became a documentary filmmaker almost by accident. After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in Middle Eastern history and being denied a visa to enter Iran, where I was enrolled at Tehran University, I met Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim in Cairo and became a co-writer and editor of her critically acclaimed documentary Control Room. The success of the film in the US made me realize I could have a conversation with a much larger audience as a documentary filmmaker than I could as a historian. After a stint editing National Geographic docs, I joined Just Vision, a nascent nonprofit organization helmed by human rights advocate Ronit Avni that aims to catalyze media coverage of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the conflict through unarmed strategies. There, I wrote and co-directed Encounter Point, which follows the courageous efforts of Palestinians and Israelis who lost something precious to the conflict and are nevertheless working toward justice and peace in the Middle East. Budrus is the second feature documentary released by Just Vision.
IDA: What inspired you to make Budrus?
JB: For seven years now, villages across the West Bank have experienced a resurgence in nonviolent strategies to resist the Israeli Occupation. Combining tactics borrowed from the first Intifada in the 1980s with the active participation of Israeli and international activists, this movement, though still fragile, carries great potential for the region. However, local and international journalists have only recently started covering this story. For the film, I wanted to focus on a success story to show what is possible when people unite to engage in civil disobedience, even in the Middle East. The story of Budrus, a small Palestinian village, provided the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.
IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?
JB: Fundraising was and continues to be the biggest challenge. We raised all the money for the film through tax-deductible donations to Just Vision. The economic downturn in the US made this process very challenging. Luckily, I had an incredible team of Palestinians, Israelis and North Americans who were very committed to making this film happen. Many people donated their time and skills. Without people's incredibly generosity, Budrus would not have been possible.
IDA: As you've screened Budrus--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions
JB: Everywhere the film has screened so far--Dubai, Berlin, London, New York, Rio, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv--audiences have been completely surprised that they had never heard about what happened in the village of Budrus. Even people who pride themselves on closely following the conflict have confessed they missed this story. After screenings worldwide, people from diverse backgrounds have been inspired to get involved and take action, which I believe is a testament to the timeliness of the film; I am not sure we would have had this kind of positive reaction even just a few years ago.
IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?
JB: The work that has inspired the most is actually a fiction film: The Battle of Algiers.
Budrus will be screening July 30 through August 5 at the the ArcLight Hollywood in Los Angeles and August 6 through 12 the IFC Center in New York City.
To download the DocuWeeksTM program, click here.
To purchase tickets for Budrus in Los Angeles, click here.
To purchase tickets for Budrus in New York, click here.