The Palestinian film-maker is set to direct a new feature later this year or in the first half of 2016, marking his first film since 2009’s The Time That Remains.
“I’ve just finished the script,” Suleiman said of the as-yet-untitled work. He did not unveil the plot but noted “all of my films are to do with something personal.”
“It’s a voyage that will be crossing countries. It’s the first film I will do that doesn’t take Palestine as a microcosm of the world.”
Suleiman added the project could shoot in Europe, the US or Palestine. Like all his work it will have “a brushstroke of the political time we live in.”
He will produce the film alongside his regular collaborator Vincent Maraval at Wild Bunch as well as Edouard Weil at Rectangle Productions.
In an interview with Screen at the Doha Film Institute’s inaugural Qumra event where he serves as artistic advisor, Suleiman joked that he can only make a film every seven years.
He is not far off the truth – he made debut feature Chronicle Of A Disappearance in 1996, followed by Divine Intervention in 2002 and The Time That Remains in 2009. In between have been many artistic pursuits such as short film work, museum projects and lecturing.
“I don’t make many films. Part of my character and the way I see the world is I like to cross different milieus. I like to interact, not just to make images. You need to respond to the ambience of the moment in which you’re living,” he said.
“The older I grow, the less self-assured I am. I’m so full of doubt. I’m throwing myself into a situation I don’t know. I’m risking it big time but what the heck, I don’t want to make ‘just another film.’”
In a very personal industry masterclass at Qumra, Suleiman recalled moving from Nazareth to New York, where friends used to sneak him into NYU Film School classes and he at first found works by Jean-Luc Godard to be “bourgeois.”
He preferred cinema like Missing by Costa-Gavras and later discovered the work of Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
“There was something in Japanese and Taiwanese cinema that resembled the ambience of where I came from,” Suleiman said. “The couple watching the train in Tokyo Story – that was like watching my parents and our neighbours facing the political situation they had to face at home,” he said.
“Ozu gave me the sense I could do it [make films],” he said. “I had an instant identification of his point of view with the camera.”
Suleiman’s first film project was experimental video work Introduction To The End Of An Argument (1990), which showed a collage of stereotypical images of Arabs seen in Western Media.
It premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and launched him in a big way onto the international scene. From there, a Tunisian producer asked him to do a short film about the Gulf War that became a part omnibus The Gulf War. “That was the serious beginning of me trying to deal with the cinematic image,” Suleiman remembered.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Dust In The Wind would inspire his first feature Chronicle Of A Disappearance. It was an ambitious debut, with 70-80 locations and a huge crew.
“It was more like a fourth film, but I took a leap,” Suleiman said. “I took a risk, because I didn’t know any better. There was a script; what there was not was the plot.”
He tried to pitch the project to several French producers and said he encountered a “post-colonial attitude” from them. “They wanted us [Palestinians] to be the subject of the film, not the maker of the film. So I produced the film myself.”
His real parents starred in the film and he joked: “My father saw himself as Bogart.” The controversial film resulted in a fatwa on the film-maker in Egypt.
Chronicle was an international festival hit after it won Best First Film at Venice 1996. After that he needed more time to decide on his next project. “Wandering and daydreaming was partially research in a way. I needed to live and experience to come back to my notebooks,” he explained.
He added modestly: “I’m utterly not convinced that I’m a film-maker. I have friends who are ‘real’ film-makers and are coming up with scripts all the time. It’s not laziness, but it’s a non-action that I have in my character.
“For Divine Intervention I just started to write these scenes that I called highlights, blowing up a tank or a woman crossing checkpoints, and the balloon… I don’t know how to make a plot. I can write scenes.”
For The Time That Remains, the scenes came from a place close to home, as the story was inspired by the life of Suleiman’s father in Nazareth during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
“My father was in the resistance and he was caught and tortured. They threw him off a cliff, but he survived. He was a strong man,” the director remembered.
Suleiman’s father used to tell him stories of the war and when he got ill towards the end of his life the director encouraged him to write them down.
“I kept that diary and for many years,” he said. “I was not ready [to make it into a film] for years. All the events he described happened in our neighborhood. I did shots in exactly the same place sometimes.
“I tried to come as close as possible to something I didn’t live. The fact that it is my father got it closer to myself.”