Q&A with filmmaker, Avi Mograbi


CAF: Congratulations on your retrospective at the Open City Documentary Festival. Were you expecting this?

AM:  It was a nice surprise. I’ve had several retrospectives, so it wasn’t a case where I was discovered, but it’s very nice when people you don’t know very well want to exhibit your work.

CAF: How important is the festival to you and to be engaged with the London audience?

AM: It’s very important for me because my work is not so known in England. It has never been broadcast there and only one of my films, Avenge But One Of My Two Eyes, was released on DVD. I’m very happy to have this opportunity for more people to get to know my work and also, to perform The Details.

CAF: Your films predominantly focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arabs and Jews, Identity issues. As a filmmaker, why is it important for you to concentrate and dedicate your career to this? Do you feel that you can contribute to a social change by continuously addressing these matters?

AM: It’s not because I think I can contribute to some change, but because I am engaged with it. Sometimes stories or issues and ideas don’t just go away. These are situations I deal with every day.

CAF: There’s a touching moment in, Once I Entered A Garden, where Ali’s daughter (Yasmin), is confiding to the camera about her problems of dealing with racism in Tel Aviv and then there’s your conversation with Ali about the ‘no right to return’ to Beirut. Is this discussed openly in daily Israeli life and society or were you wanting to draw attention to this?

AM: The issue of racism is discussed a lot here but not much is being done about it. The Education system tries to deal with and focus on it. But it’s not necessarily only the Palestinians, as Yasmin is both Palestinian and Jewish, but lately African Asylum seekers encounter a lot of racism and prejudice and there is an [intense] anxiety of the ‘other’ and what the ‘other’ might do. So, this is going on all the time but again, nobody does anything about it. The Establishment is not interested and on the contrary, they are contributing to this kind of discourse.

My wish of returning to Beirut is a symbolic one and not a practical wish. I don’t feel I was kicked out of Beirut or have a claim there, although I’d be very happy to visit. The symbolic wish to return is more of a wish to return to a possibility of living together and sharing, in terms of culture, language, friendships and the possibility of collaborating and communicating. It’s not about a physical return.

Sometimes Jews from Arab descent do raise a voice concerning their wish to return and reclaim their supposed lost property but this comes only as a means to defeat the ‘right of return’s’ discourse of the Palestinians; it’s not taken seriously and more of a political statement. The situation of Arab Jews is very different to that of the Palestinians; none of the Jews from Arab descent is a refugee and none of them live in a refugee camp or are exempt from their basic rights. So, there is a very big difference.



Avenge But One of My Two Eyes

CAF: There is a powerful exchange between yourself and Israeli soldiers in your film, Avenge But One of My Two Eyes. Were you not afraid of how the soldiers could have reacted towards you? 

AM: First of all, I was afraid, but when you lose control you overcome your fear and I lost my control in this particular scene. Personally, I don’t like to see myself in that situation. Another thing to consider is that both the soldiers and myself knew exactly who I was [as in my identity], that I am an Israeli and perhaps the age of their father, of another generation. It was very clear that they would not dare do too much to me.

CAF: What will your live performance, The Details, involve at the festival?

AM: I will carry out this performance with Noam Enbar, who is a musician and who wrote the music to two of my films, Once I Entered A Garden and Z32. We’ve developed something between a performance and a film and will improvise sending videos from a bank of scenes that were never included in my films or seen before, to the four panorama screens, creating certain types of tensions. The connections between the images will not only be made along a timeline but in a parallel way too. It’s very different to a [typical] multi-screen video installation because it doesn’t have a beginning or an end and there is no defined narrative. We know how we will start and finish but in between there will be around 45 minutes of this improvisation.

CAF: Will the images be screened live with music? 

AM: …It’s not with music.  Noam will mix the four sources of video and sound to take the attention to specific places. In a deeper way we try to treat this as a musical composition. So, it’s not just the content or narrative of each video but something closer to the music that makes it more abstract and detours the mind and gets straight into the soul.

CAF: Will you introduce this into your Masterclass?

AM: I will talk about how the form has been developed. But I will also talk about the route I’ve taken from growing up, wishing to be a filmmaker, studying art and my path in making films and documentaries and returning to creating work in a more artistic context.

CAF: Do you give Masterclasses often and teach?

AM: I make a living from teaching and I travel from time to time and do Masterclasses in different countries. I will do one in Brazil soon…




CAF: What kind of message/s do you want to pass on to members of the audience, especially to a Middle Eastern or a Palestinian?

AM: I’m trying to pass on my thoughts, dilemmas, certain issues. Though, my position is less of someone trying to pass on a message… I hope people from the Arab world will be in tune with what people like myself have to say. We all have to live together in the region and hopefully, eventually we can all become good neighbours.

CAF: So, in your view, if there were peace within the region, what would that look like to you?

AM: …I think respect. We’ve developed this idea of what some people call “a villa in the jungle”. We are living on an Island separated from the Ocean around us and I would be very happy if we could walk out and be part of the “jungle”…  needless to say, I don’t think it’s a jungle.

CAF: What is your next project?

AM: I just started a new project working with the African Asylum seekers here who are detained in the desert in an ‘open detention centre’. It’s basically a jail as they can only walk out of the centre into the desert but they have to go back and register three times a day. It’s an awful situation, so we are making a type of ‘Theatre-of-the-Oppressed’ workshop there and documenting it.

CAF: When will this documentary be released?

AM: There is no deadline for any of my films. We just started and hopefully, it will be finished by next year.

CAF: I think your work actually, just by watching some of the clips and film, is very powerful and it highlight things that not many people would dare to highlight… I think they do have that power, but that’s just me!

AM: Thank you very much. Can I name you if someone asks me if my films have made an impact on anybody?

CAF: [Laughs] Why not, well I don’t know, maybe I need to think about that… But these are humanitarian issues and you don’t see much of that in filmmaking these days.  

Event supported by Film Hub London, managed by Film London and a proud partner of the BFI Film Audience Network, funded by the National Lottery. www.filmlondon.org.uk/filmhub

Interviewed and Edited by Nina Mahdavi
Credits: All images and footage provided by Open City Documentary Festival and the artist. All rights reserved.