It’s all about People – Cinema Jenin

Marcus Vetter
Marcus Vetter is one of the founder of Cinema Jenin. Born in 1967, director and producer. Marcus studied ‘European Business Studies’ in Worms, Buenos Aires and Madrid. After a work placement at ‘Bavaria Film’ he decided to start another degree in ‘Media Sciences’ at the University of Tübingen. Since 1994 he has worked as a freelance editor, writer and director mostly for the German SWR TV channel. He has directed numerous primetime documentaries which show regularly at international festivals.

 

we-magazine >
Marcus, your last film was for ARTE. It’s called “Heart of Jenin”. Can you give us a short introduction to it?

Marcus Vetter >
I was asked by a production company to make this film – it was not my own idea. And it was not at all what I expected. The film is about a father – Ismael Khatib – whose son was killed by the Israeli army in Jenin, a refugee camp, and who decided to donate his son’s organs to Israeli children.
Working together with an Israeli director on a Palestinian issue was a very interesting challenge. When I first came to Israel to work on the film, everyone told me that Jenin is a no-go area! All Israelis are scared to death about this city. Just mention Jenin on a bus or somewhere and people will turn their heads – and you can see and actually feel their fear. People said I would be killed or kidnapped if I went to Jenin because there were other journalists kidnapped in Gaza at the time. So we waited two weeks. But then I decided to go. I shot in Jenin with my Palestinian team without my Israelian co-director.
And what I saw there was totally different from what the news clips were showing or what people had told me about it.

we-magazine >
Before we go on to talk about Jenin, perhaps you could tell us why the story of “Heart of Jenin” is so special?

Marcus Vetter >
The story’s so special because there’s such a lot of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians. A father loses his son who’s shot down by the Israeli army, and he decides through his son’s organs to reach out to Israeli children. This reach out is something very special and it really echoed all around the world. Even in Israel the story made it into the news program.
Such things can happen in special moments when human beings forget their hatreds. It was a sign –  a hand reached out to the other side.

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What did the Israelian people say?

Marcus Vetter >
First of all people in Israel didn’t expect something like this to happen. But what they said In Israel was that this was just one single man and if only everyone in Palestine could be more like Ismael Khatid, ready to reach out their hand, then there would be no problem.
But that’s simply not true! This is what I discovered when I went to Jenin. They’re very welcoming, warm-hearted people – first and foremost they’re people.

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What kind of challenges do you see in this area?

Marcus Vetter >
On the one hand, Israel has made a lot of mistakes. They are loosing their solidarity in the world. When I screened the “Heart of Jenin” last year, before the Gaza war, people liked it a lot. The film was lucky enough to make its way through all these different lobbies and appeal directly to the people. There were some people in the audience who said perhaps it’s a bit one-sided and takes up the Palestinian cause too much. But nowadays nobody would dare to say anything negative about the film. This means that one of the challenges now is the waning of sympathy for the Israeli people. This puts Israel in a situation where it’s vulnerable.
And on the other side there are Palestinians who see that Israel is weak. And this is dangerous because if they see that Israel is weak, suddenly they feel that they can solve the situation and so tend more towards fundamentalism. This is what I have seen – but not with the majority of people in Palestine. No, the majority of people – and this is my deep feeling – don’t want a third Intifada. Right now they’re standing in the middle.
So the big challenge for this region is to handle this situation – fuelled by the mistakes of the Israelian government itself – and by the same token the growing potential of fundamentalism on the Palestine side. Israel will never ever except a second Holocaust. And this makes for a dangerous and highly explosive situation.

we-magazine >
So why did you go to Jenin even though everybody recommended you to stay away?

Marcus Vetter >
I went to Jenin because I’m a documentary filmmaker and if I’m making a film about someone who comes from Jenin, then I have to go to Jenin or I simply don’t do the film. I will not do interviews by phone like I was recommended to do!

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What happened when you got there?

Marcus Vetter >
I met a great number of extraordinarily welcoming, warm-hearted people. I was totally astonished at how “naive” they were – I was astonished that I could take a taxi without being cheated – unlike in Tel Aviv or Cairo. It’s a very innocent city because there isn’t that much tourism.
But later on I also discovered some problematic issues in this society caused by the circumstances which they are forced to live in. It’s hard to gain trust where there isn’t much trust at all. And as I see it, there’s not much friendship. People are very quick to use the word “friendship” but true friendship is very rare in my experience. They’re also very atomised because there is so little money that everyone wants what the other person has. If you have a good position, you might be blackmailed and  replaced.
Only the people and their way of being, their warm hearts, I really liked a lot. And I fell in love with Jenin and what I want to make clear with our project Cinema Jenin is that Jenin is not a place you should be scared of. Its people are not terrorists!

we-magazine >
But that’s what the place is known for, that’s what the news delivers!

Marcus Vetter >
Exactly!

we-magazine >
You said at the beginning that “Heart of Jenin” had totally changed your life. But usually when you make a film, you go and shoot and produce the movie, and it’s a success or not, and you follow up a bit and then move on to the next project. But you’re now trying to establish something down there. So what happened to you after you shot the movie?

Marcus Vetter >
I’d met some people and I could see by looking in their eyes that they needed a helping hand. I didn’t want to leave this place without giving them my hand.

we-magazine >
So how do you reach out?

Marcus Vetter >
The key point for me was, is and will be Ismael’s decision to donate his son’s organs to Israeli children. When you see the film you will understand that it wasn’t solely his own decision. Many people were involved! And that’s key! It was the nurse who talked to him so well about what it means to donate organs. Then he asked Zakaria Zbeidy of the  Al Akza brigade, if he accepted, and he did even though he is someone who fights with arms. Zbeidy said if this is your way you should follow it and go it with God, I will accept it. This was a very brave decision on his part since other terrorists or freedom fighter groups could easily have said “What are you doing?” Further on he asked the Mufti of Jenin who interpreted the whole thing in a favourable light of the Koran.
So the fact that this would never have happened if everyone involved in this chain hadn’t each taken a brave decision was also pretty astonishing for me. This wasn’t a single man’s decision which is the good thing about it because one single hero is not enough. We don’t need just one hero. This is a major problem of our time.

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Tell us, what the project Cinema Jenin is about and how does it handle the challenges you’ve just described?

Marcus Vetter >
What we did was to reopen an old cinema closed down in 1987 and give the kids in the streets a vision and something to believe in. Cinema means a lot, means a return to normality which people need. The kids on the streets, in the refugee camps need a vision. But it’s not just a cinema for kids, it’s for their parents and grown-ups as well. Cinema isn’t just about story-telling; it means the electricians, workers, craftsmen who build it. Cinema means translation, filmmaking, producing, synchronisation – there’s hardly any skill which is not involved in cinema. And the good thing about a cinema is that it has an actual place you can see. It’s not anonymous like a TV station. It’s a place you can visit. I think there is nothing better than a cinema for creating the jobs, dreams, visions which are what the people need.
But what is also just as important is that international people – “we” – and Palestinian people – “they” – want to come together in a joint venture to build a platform where people can express themselves. Why come together? Because this region is totally divided: the Arab world is totally splintered; the Israelis who are cousins to the Arabs are totally splintered. So we need to begin with ourselves and not just pump money into the region and leave. We need to create something sustainable, in our case this platform Cinema Jenin.

we-magazine >
If I got you right Marcus, Cinema Jenin is all about trust. Give trust, step back and give the other a chance by stepping back yourself. So your dream   is that is what the whole city has to do. If we can persuade the whole city …

Marcus Vetter >
If you can persuade these people with the story that happened in Jenin with Ismael where the whole city lent a hand to say “OK, we’ll be smarter now. We’ll step back this time and do something even though the occupation army is still in Jenin!” – you can’t imagine how much the whole world would be in sympathy with such a move.
Our aim is to come together and stick together:  first Palestinians and internationals in Jenin, then …
A few days ago we got a phone call from an established film school, the established Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. Fakhri Hamad and the director met up at the Cinema for Peace Gala when we won the Cinema for Peace Award in Berlin. And somehow they got on with each other, it was almost like a friendship. And they were here in Jenin and they spent the night…

we-magazine >
The Israelis?

Marcus Vetter >
Yes, the Israelis. It was the first time, it’s so seldom that anyone dares to come to Jenin. And now we’ve had a phone call from the director who asked if he could come to Jenin on 16th April and bring 60 students with him!

we-magazine >
That’s a huge step!

Marcus Vetter >
That means that now they have trust in us, in Cinema Jenin, in the city. If the city would accept, then it’s a huge step because it means that the city will take care that nothing happens to 60 Israelis coming to Jenin.
The whole city would give its consent and not just one person. This means a lot. Then there’s no hero anymore, it’s all the people, and that makes a big difference. I hope it will happen some day …



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