HISHAM ZREIQ, DIRECTOR OF 'DON'T CRY'
5-TIME NOMINEE BEST DRAMA, BEST CGI & VISUAL EFFECTS, BEST ANIMATED FILM, BEST CHARACTER DESIGN, BEST CREATED ENVIRONMENT
As one of the leading voices in Palestinian independent cinema, Hisham Zreiq is a multi-talented artist whose films elegantly tread the delicate balance between the political and the personal. From his earliest works as a graphic designer and animator, Zreiq has always held a keen interest in portraying narratives that are profoundly rooted in his own experiences and cultural heritage. His latest animated film, "Don't Cry", is no exception. The five-time nominee at the Lonely Wolf International Film Festival in categories including Best Drama, Best CGI & Visual Effects, Best Animated Film, Best Character Design, and Best Created Environment, the film is a testament to Zreiq's relentless pursuit of cinematic excellence.
"Don't Cry" brings a unique perspective to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, depicting the story of a Palestinian girl, a Palestinian man, and an Israeli woman who find themselves entangled in a volatile encounter at a celestial lake. The tensions from a past event erupt into the present, and the girl steps in to mediate. In the face of long-standing cultural and political differences, the film raises a poignant question: can a bridge be built between these divided individuals?
Hisham Zreiq's directorial journey, from founding the company Adonis in 1991, where he began his career in animation and graphic design, to creating films that win international awards, is a testament to his dedication to his craft. Born and raised in Nazareth, he migrated to Germany in 2001, a decision that further expanded his perspectives and influenced his filmmaking approach.
Zreiq's directorial portfolio is as diverse as it is powerful. His first film, a documentary titled "The Sons of Eilaboun" (2007), won the Al-Awda Award in Palestine. His subsequent short fiction films, "Just another day" (2009) and "Before you is the sea" (2011), dealt with the experiences of Arabs in the western world post-9/11 and the Middle East peace process, respectively.
In his statement, Zreiq shares the motivation behind his latest film, "Don't Cry", emphasizing his desire to highlight the reasons behind violent actions, rather than justifying them. His film attempts to dispel misconceptions about Arabs and Palestinians by shedding light on the pain, frustration, and lack of perspective that often leads individuals down a path of violence. Drawing inspiration from Newton's third law – "for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction" – Zreiq seeks to demonstrate that this principle applies to life as well.
In "Don't Cry", Zreiq employs his skills as a filmmaker and visual artist to create a compelling narrative that explores themes of identity, reconciliation, and the complex intricacies of human conflict. The film is a testament to Zreiq's ability to convey powerful messages through thought-provoking narratives, remarkable visuals, and complex themes. It stands as a remarkable milestone in independent animation and is essential viewing for those interested in understanding the complexities of human conflict and the potential for healing and reconciliation.
1. What was your inspiration behind this film? Could you shed some light on how the idea originated?
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which began in 1936 and escalated drastically in 1948, has been an ongoing part of my life since 1968. As a Palestinian citizen of Israel, I've been exposed to both sides of this enduring conflict. When I moved to Germany in 2001, I noticed a pronounced bias in Western media, where the Israeli perspective was often glorified while Palestinians were frequently villainized. I felt it necessary to illustrate that Palestinians, often depicted as violent or terroristic in media and films, are in fact reacting to personal tragedies and a pervasive lack of hope. I wanted to humanize this perspective for the audience through this film.
2. How did you navigate the subject matter of this film? Were there any specific research or preparatory activities involved?
My research was largely experiential and drawn from what I observed and lived through during the 1990s. For instance, a photography exhibition on the conflict left a deep impression on me. Regular exposure to news and documentaries about the conflict, and personal accounts from individuals I met, all contributed significantly to my understanding and perspective. These experiences essentially served as my research.
3. Could you share some of the challenges faced during the production of this film and the strategies employed to overcome them?
Funding was the most substantial challenge as animation is notoriously expensive, even when produced independently. To mitigate this, I divided the work into smaller segments, spreading the cost over time. Another hurdle was the technical aspect; I had to reacquaint myself with the art of animation, something I hadn't engaged with since the early 90s.
4. Your film has been referred to as "powerful". What do you believe contributes to this quality? Was this something you intentionally aimed for?
The film's potency lies in its surreal atmosphere and symbolic undertones, which provoke curiosity in the viewer. The narrative unfolds slowly, revealing a clear conflict between the man and woman without immediately explaining the causes or context. As the girl elucidates the story, the viewer begins to empathize with the characters. The ending, combined with the emotionally charged narrative, also intensifies the film's impact.
5. What key themes and messages did you aim to convey through this film?
The film underscores that peace is achievable if both sides acknowledge and understand each other's perspectives and suffering. Palestinians are not monsters or terrorists; they are people enduring a challenging occupation that often strips them of hope and dreams. It's important to recognize that violent acts are reactions to these unbearable conditions.
6. How does this film resonate with your personal beliefs or experiences?
The film strongly echoes my personal beliefs. Its success, I believe, can be attributed to its honest reflection of my thoughts.
7. How have audiences reacted to the film? Have any responses particularly surprised or moved you?
Audience reactions have been overwhelmingly empathetic towards the characters. During Q&A sessions, I noted that viewers expressed strong emotions when discussing the film, which indicated that the film had achieved its intended impact. Despite none of the characters being named, viewers identified with their pain. The film's 38 awards and its screenings at numerous film festivals worldwide also attest to its acceptance.