Three years ago, my life changed. Three years ago, as a journeyman screenwriter here in Sydney, with a script I’d been on for ten years, languishing in “development hell” (is that a contradiction in terms, “languishing” in “Hell?”), I was given a brief for a movie, written on one side of a sheet of A4. If I’m glib, the central tenet of that brief was “to solve the problems of the Middle East in a film script,” to be more specific, “to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” As soon as I read that sheet of paper, I knew that my life might be about to change, but I had no idea just how it really was going to change. I also knew that if I actually thought I had the slightest clue as to what the solution might be, then I was out of my mind.
To those commissioning me, I pointed out that I knew little more that the average man in the Australian street about what I was being asked to write, and that secondly, I had no vested interest, no axe to grind: I’m not Israeli, not Palestinian, I follow no particular faith or religion and at that point, I’d never been to the part of the world they were asking me to write about.
There were two caveats to my brief: one, was that some or all of the story must be set in Jerusalem and two, that the film should try to convey an idea of a peaceful solution to the conflict. My own conditions were these: that I should spend the first two months doing little other than immersing myself in research and that two, I would need to go to Jerusalem.
In those first two months of research, I consumed everything that I could lay my hands on and what I very quickly learnt was that before reading, watching, listening or speaking to anyone, it behoved me to know a little of the background of who the particular message was coming from. For everyone has a position, a stance, an angle. Neutrality and objectivity were hard commodities to lay my hands on. I think the closest I came to an impartial piece of work was in ‘Understand the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Teach Yourself’, but from memory, even the author of that book said that he struggled to not veer towards taking a position.
That was three years ago. Two drafts of the feature film Oslo have now been written and we’re on the verge of commissioning a third draft. The following is a quote that I found along the way in my research and I regret that as I write this, I can’t lay my hands on who to credit:
“The book of Psalms calls Jerusalem the City of God and Zechariah calls it the City of Truth – but whose God and whose Truth? Whilst wrestling with these eternal questions, the people of Jerusalem have established their city as centre stage and have cast themselves as the main characters in a drama. But as this epic has unfolded, the boundaries between fact and faith, religion and politics, the sacred and the secular have become blurred. The past seems to have lost little if any of its power to inspire, animate and provoke. Where there is so much destructive memory, a little forgetfulness may be in order.”
Something in that paragraph tantalises the filmmaker in me. To begin the journey of making this film, I had to employ a cousin of the “forgetfulness” talked about, by way of trying to be a blank canvas, to have some objectivity in this film so that all voices can be heard, can be given a voice.
It’s my intention to share the journey of this film here in this Blog, the trials, tribulations, obstacles, hopes and dreams.