Schnabel's true romance inspires tale of love across cultural divide

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The real-life romance behind the film could not have better advertised its subject matter: a Jewish American film director and son of a Zionist mother meets a Palestinian woman at an art exhibition, falls in love, reads about her traumatic childhood under Israeli occupation and brings her moving story to the screen.

It was clear as Julian Schnabel premiered his latest film, Miral, at the Venice Film Festival yesterday that deeply personal forces had led to its making.

His girlfriend, the Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, had written the screenplay (based on her 2004 autobiographical novel), and his daughter, Stella Schnabel, starred as an Israeli girl that befriends the Palestinian protagonist. Schnabel and Jebreal's cross-cultural union gave the film's implicit hope for peace in the Middle East an added emotional dimension.

Schnabel – who was an influential visual artist before turning to film – met Jebreal in 2007 at an exhibition in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

Seated alongside her yesterday, Schnabel conceded that before he met her, he had "receded" from the Israel-Palestine conflict and perhaps even his Jewish identity. "Maybe I spent most of my life receding from going to Israel, or my responsibility as a Jewish person ... maybe this [retreat] was my way of protecting something my mother [a member of Hadassah, a Zionist organisation in America] spent her whole life trying to build."

Jebreal said when they first started speaking about issues behind the occupied territories "I understood that Julian had little knowledge about the conflict, about who the Palestinians are or even why there is a conflict."

The film dramatises the stories of three generations of women living in Jerusalem during the first intifada in 1948 until the Oslo accords in 1994.

It begins as the Palestinian philanthropist Hind Husseini finds 55 orphans left destitute and traumatised by war in 1948, who become the first generation of thousands of girls she takes in to be educated at her school, Dar El-Tifl.

The tale of the passionate teenager, Miral, caught between violent struggle and Husseini's non-violent teachings is the thinly veiled story of Jebreal's early life. It stars the Indian actress Freida Pinto, who starred in Slumdog Millionaire, and includes Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave in its cast.

Schnabel enlisted Jebreal as a screenwriter and she also accompanied him on set to the occupied territories, becoming a de facto "assistant director" of sorts, he added.

"I couldn't have made it without her. It would have been impossible. We shot the film in Jerusalem and Palestine – in Jaffa, Ramallah, Haifa and many other places – including places where Rula had lived. Doors opened up as a result," he said.

The film's underlying message – for a peace agreement to be reached and honoured – might not lead intransigent politicians to alter their outlook on the conflict, but the film's producer, Tarak Ben Ammar, said he hoped that the public at least would be touched by it.

He called Schnabel part of a Jewish "silent majority" who greatly sympathised with the Palestinian predicament. Schnabel, he added, had received a letter by a "lover of Israel" who had thanked him for his portrayal of Arab suffering, and highlighted the idea that "justice for Jews [does not mean] injustice for Arabs."

The film has already been sold in the Middle East and Schnabel said he had every hope of selling it in Israel.

This is his fourth film. He turned to filmmaking in 1996 after a long and fruitful career as an artist, exhibiting work at the Tate in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Whitney Museum in New York.

His film Before Night Falls won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 and earned its star, Javier Bardem, an Oscar nomination. In 2007, Schnabel was named "best director" at the Cannes Film Festival and awarded a Golden Globe for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence