Eyas Salman – Palestinian Filmmaker
Words by Rachel Trevarthen
Eyas Salman is a Palestinian film editor, director and writer.
He is the editor of the Palestinian film The Idol screening currently at the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival and recent winner of the 2015 UNESCO Asia Pacific Screen Award. Eyas is also the editor of the 2013 APSA Best Feature Film winner and Oscar nominated, Omar.
The Idol, written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is the incredibly moving story of Mohammad Assaf, a young singer who becomes the first Palestinian to ever compete in and win Arab Idol.
Eyas spoke with SIBW this week about the making of The Idol.
This film is more than anything a film about hope.
“Mohammad Assaf is famous for giving back hope to the Palestinian people. He united his country’s people behind his voice. His charisma, his amazing sense of humour and his background gathered people around him which was amazing,” Eyas says.
Eyas and the film’s writer Hany, first noticed Mohammad’s story in 2013.
“This story came to our attention when we were wrapping up our movie Omar premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Upon returning from this trip, we saw people fixated on this show. Hany was so ecstatic when he discovered this story. He was happier about Mohammad Assaf winning Arab Idol than him winning the Cannes Jury Award,” he says.
To participate in the competition, Mohammad had to get out of war-torn Gaza and attend auditions in Cairo. A visa is impossible for Palestinians and the Israeli fence stops people crossing the border as they wish. His story was a defiant stance of strength and determination to make something of himself and not let the situation he was born into define his destiny.
When asked whether this movie intended to be political Eyas responded simply “everything in Palestine is political.”
“Any simple task can become political and it might even be unethical to avoid politics because it’s our daily routine. Compared to other films by Hany Abu-Assad, it’s less political as this is more of a human story.”
The first part of the film tells the story of Mohammad’s childhood where the boy Mohammad (played by Kais Attalah), his sister Nour (Hiba Attalah) and two friends Ashraf (Ahmad Qasem) and Omar (Abdel Kareem Barakeh) make a band out of bric a brac found on the streets.
Eyas also spoke about the incredible roles played by the four children in the film.
“It was a pleasure to work with the four kids in this film. We handpicked them from 200 applicants, none of them had seen a camera before and they weren’t official actors. The amazing thing though, is they weren’t intimidated” he says.
“We had to think about why they weren’t intimidated and we realised something. By the age of 11, these kids had experienced two wars. So a camera or film crew wasn’t going to intimidate them.”
Mohammad’s sister, Nour is a particularly strong, female character. Eyas says she is partly representative of women in Palestine and partly a rebellion against the status quo.
“The status of women in Palestine has been changing in the past five years. We now see more women in politics and arts and economics and Nour is a strong symbol of the strength of Palestinian women.”
Can a film like The Idol change things for the Palestinian people?
Eyas isn’t sure.
“I don’t think movies or arts can change anything for Gaza. But it gives a glimpse of life there. Hany, the director, is very dedicated to the Palestinian cause but in my opinion we are in cinema because we love cinema and knowing people are seeing and accepting the films I help create is enough for me,” he says.