Few films in Venice this year have arrived trailing as much controversy in their their wake as Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker Suha Arraf’s new feature Villa Touma, which screens in Venice Critics Week.
Arraf’s drama received a large part of its funding from public sources in Israel but the director wished it to be identified as a Palestinian film.
There have been calls from such prominent figures as Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat for her to return the Israeli money with which she made the film.
On the eve of her Venice screening, Arraf, respected internationally as the screenwriter of such award winning films as The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, said she was baffled by the heated Israeli reaction to Villa Touma.
The writer-director pointed out that she has never denied the film was made with Israeli money. There is nothing in her contract that requires her to present the film as an Israeli production.
After the start of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Arraf observed that Palestinians based in Israel had been subjected to abuse, attacks, sackings and even arrests.
“I was myself attacked two months ago in Tel Aviv because I spoke on my phone in Arabic,” Arraf stated. “They called me ‘dirty Arab’ and said ‘go from here.’ I wasn’t allowed to speak in my own language in Tel Aviv.”
Arraf explained that she submitted her to Venice long before the bombing in Gaza had begun and that she had always intended for it to be identified as a Palestinian film.
“I am an artist and I became a criminal…They are looking for a target and I am an easy target,” Arraf commented.
Villa Touma receives its world premiere in Venice on Sunday and will also screen in Toronto.