<b>Creativity is like “fire”, says Annemarie Jacir, whose third feature, <em>Wajib</em>, is being warmly received at film festivals and has opened on general release in France to be followed by Switzerland, Italy, Australia,
Spain and the United Kingdom.</b>
<em>Wajib</em>, the third feature film by Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, tells of a father and son driving around delivering invitations to the wedding of their daughter/sister. This bittersweet comedy is set in Nazareth
in the run-up to Christmas, with the duo played by real-life father and son, Palestinians Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri.
<em>Wajib</em> won three prizes when it premiered at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival, in Switzerland, and is also Palestine’s official entry for the best foreign-language film at the 2018 Oscars (Jacir’s two previous feature
films were also Palestine’s Oscar entries in past years).
After Locarno, the film was screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, drawing positive reviews. It also won the Jury Special Mention at London BFI Film Festival, as well as Youth Jury Award at Cinemed Montpellier. Most
recently, it won Best Film at the Dubai International Film Festival and at the International Film Festival of Kerala, and a slew of other awards. These include four prestigious awards at Argentina’s Mar Del Plata International Film
Festival and the Grand Prize, as well as the Audience Award, at the Amiens International Film Festival. In Rome, <em>Wajib</em> took the Jury Prize at MedFilm.
<b><em>Wajib</em> is being highly praised and described as a sort of father and son road movie with them both expressing different opinions about their homeland, Palestine. The father seems more pragmatic, and the son
more idealistic and angry. Is there a bit of each of them in you?</b>
All my characters must have a bit of me in them in all my films. I also like duality. In <em>Wajib</em>, the father and son are incomplete without each other. If there was a theoretical idea for the feeling at the end of the
film, I would say it is yin and yang. Two opposites who in fact are connected, two forces which complement the other and really are one.
<b>You wrote the film as well as directing it. Where did the idea for the film come from?</b>
The initial seed was the tradition of men hand-delivering wedding invitations, but very few Palestinians still practise it. But in the north, it’s still taken very seriously. I found this very interesting, especially as it’s the Palestinians
who live in Israel who still do this and, in fact, it’s that persistence, the need to hold onto this tradition, that is somehow a way to insist on their identity as Palestinians.
<b>You’ve said that “film-making is about resisting being invisible” – do you see yourself primarily as a film-maker or as someone defending the rights of Palestinians? Or is the issue of how you see yourself irrelevant?</b>
It is irrelevant. But I see myself as someone who is involved in the world and who cares about other human beings. What I do in life is tell stories, amongst other things, but that is my primary interest. Many of those stories are specifically
about Palestinians because that is who I am, but I am not limited to that.
<b><em>Wajib</em> had a good reception at Locarno, with predictions, which have been well-founded, it will do well elsewhere. Were you happy with the reaction? Do you think people understood the film as you had intended?</b>
Locarno was amazing for me. Mostly because I wasn’t sure the humour would translate. For the first screening, there were 3,000 people present… and I was very nervous. But the audience reaction was fantastic! People were laughing at all
the jokes… so much so that I even started laughing because it was so pleasurable to hear their laughs. It was infectious. So yes, I was very pleased and mostly because it felt that the film was understood as intended.
<b>You have been to a lot of film festivals to promote your work. And you have had to spend a lot of time fund-raising. Does this annoy you or do you find it interesting?</b>
I can’t stand fund-raising. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years now, because that’s how I was able to make my first short films. Now that I am less and less involved in my own films as a producer, I do it less – but not as little
as I’d like. Attending film festivals is part of my work as a director. We make films to share with people − and this is a way to share them, to connect to your audience, to meet them and speak with them.
<b>Have you already begun planning your next film?</b>
I am in development on my new film. I can’t say much right now. And I also have my eyes open for new projects.
<b>Do any of the experiences of your mentoring year with Zhang Yimou ever return to you now as you make films?</b>
For me, my experience with Zhang Yimou was very special. Observing him on set, his focus and his stubbornness was inspiring. I think of him often. I loved his confidence in his own vision. I can also say the whole Rolex experience left
a deep mark on me, because I also got to meet so many other wonderful artists − people I greatly admire. And creativity is like a fire. Conversations and moments spark things, very tiny, and suddenly there is a fire.