The days of white western hauteur, sense of superiority and entitlement to speak with authority about and on behalf of just about everybody else are coming to an end. But the situation is not clear-cut.
There was controversy in the sixties when the Free Cinema middle-class directors (Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson) made films about working-class subjects: A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The screenwriters, however, were all working-class, at the top of their game: Shelagh Delaney, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey. Collaboration was key.
Or take Algerian public investment in The Battle of Algiers (1966). This account of epic struggle and the creation of a nation was directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and co-written with Franco Solinas, both Italians. India, too, backed an outsider to tell the story of one of its founders: Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, was part funded by the Indian Film Development Corporation. Also, significantly, Jack Lang, France’s minister of culture, approved Andrzej Wajda, the great Polish director, to direct Danton, a historical figure and the voice of the French Revolution.
Creatively, the line should not be drawn between the outsider’s or the insider’s view – the line should be blurred or even fractured so as to surprise and illuminate. The watchword is authenticity – difficult to define but easier to recognise.
After Tebbit became our boss at the NFFC, we sat on our hands while we waited for him to decide what to do with us. When government, any government, announces a review, the outcome is either ‘deep-sea diving boots’ or ‘the blindfolds’. In the interim, Tebbit appointed two new members to the Board. I was curious as to how he would react to the NFFC’s exceptional support of Babylon, which had been backed when Labour was in office a few months earlier. I did not have to wait long. I was summoned to meet a panjandrum from the elite of the civil service to learn our fate. We met in his office in a Georgian terrace house. The room had a high ceiling, tall doors, long windows and pale green wallpaper. It was more an eighteenth century salon than an office. He was courteous, offered me coffee and asked a few questions. Then he got down to business. It was to be the ‘diving boots’, to slow us down. Our budget would be cut. (I did wonder whether they wanted us to fail so that they could close the shop. If that was the aim, we were not cooperative – an NFFC-backed film participated at the Cannes Festival every year I was there and the Corporation put up 60% of the budget of £200,000 for Gregory’ Girl, which, it is reported, has grossed £25 million.) As I put my hand on the door handle to leave, he piped up behind me: ‘Mr Hassan, I take it you are going to back radical films and the like.’
Maybe he was thinking of Babylon. Or the films I had backed at the BFI.
‘Shouldn’t I?’ I asked.
‘Did I say you shouldn’t?’ he said.
‘No, you didn’t. I’ll remember that,’ I said.
I went back to my office and prepared for a siege. The next two films were David Gladwell’s adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel Memoirs of a Survivor, scripted by Kerry Crabbe, and Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl. I did not see Babylon as a stand-alone film. Together, all three films were about young people in a changing world: hostile in one, shattered in another, and the last apparently normal but actually heralding a new era.. ‘Gregory’s girl’ might be Dorothy the girl footballer, Gregory’s ideal, but two others also make a claim Gregory’s young sister, Madeline, and Susan, the girl who (quite literally) brings him down to earth. The three girls are the dynamic centre. Artists see today but also see tomorrow coming.
The National film Finance Corporation was closed down in 1985, to be replaced, sequentially, by British Screen, The Films Council and The British Film Institute…
We have digitally restored the original ‘Some of the Palestinians’ – a 55-minute documentary directed and edited by Mamoun Hassan when he was stationed with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Lebanon in 1974.
The film opens with a day in the life of Dr Murad, a Palestinian doctor appointed by the UNRWA to look after the health of the Palestinian people in a Syrian refugee camp. It progresses to a recently bombed camp in Lebanon to the West Bank, via Jordan.
The crew members and in Lebanon, the cinematographer, were Palestinians working in UNRWA’s Audio Visual Division, the rest of the film was shot by Ernie Vincze, the distinguished British documentary and feature cinematographer.
The final section presents a somewhat more acceptable picture of Palestinian life supported by UNRWA-sponsored humanitarian projects in women’s education and art in Ramallah. This last section was not directed by Mamoun, he explains why…
I landed in Beirut with my wife and young family on 19 April 1974 to take up my appointment as Head of Films Branch, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees). A leftist leader had been assassinated in South Lebanon the previous day and that event is regarded as the start of the civil war. A few days later I drove down to Nabatieh Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon to film the consequence of Israeli bombing. The camp had been obliterated. A few days later I filmed the effect of bombing in Rashidieh, a camp further down the coast near Tyre.
The brief was to document the services – Housing, Education, Health, Rations – that UNRWA offered the Palestinian refugees. My immediate boss and chief of the AV division was the legendary Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny (writer, photographer, sailor, dancer); the director of Information was John Defrates, the bravest man I have ever met, who was a Navy pilot in the icy waters near Vladivostock during WWll. I was given a fairly free hand but editorial control rested with UNRWA. What I saw in South Lebanon and elsewhere gave me the form of the film: the experience of life in the camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan – but not the West Bank because Israel refused me entry. Myrtle filmed that sequence.
So the story is about war in Lebanon; life in one the oldest camps near Aleppo established in 1948; work in Baqa’a in Jordan which accommodated thousands of fleeing refugees after the 1967 war; and education in Ramallah.
Mamoun is keen for people to view this film. It is a timely reminder that UNRWA’s humanitarian work is not done, despite the decision of the US administration to cut $300 m from its planned annual contribution to the UNRWA budget in 2018.
“Since I made this film, everything has changed for the worse for the Palestinian people. The locations for the film are now war zones or something very similar. The tragedy continues.”
The restoration was made from an answer print of the edited film. This version did not have English subtitles for spoken Arabic. By referring to the only other known copy – a print held at the National Film Archive – we were able to transfer the subtitles exactly as they appeared on the film, which was invited to the London Film Festival in 1976.
In May 1973, just after the release of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man, London University Audio Visual (LUAV) filmed a conversation/interview with Lindsay Anderson and me. O Lucky Man was the focus of the interview, which was part of an LUAV planned series of interviews with leading figures of the time. The results would be kept in a kind of time capsule and would not be released until fifty or a hundred years later. The project was abandoned early on.
The story has struck a chord with young audiences world wide including those at the FILMS FROM THE SOUTH festival in Oslo, where Mamoun saw the film last week while visiting with ANDRES WOOD (Andres’ recent film VIOLETA WENT TO HEAVEN appeared at both festivals).
The relevant and controversial themes are reminiscent of the incendiary film BABYLON (1981 Dir. Franco Rosso) funded under Mamoun’s watch as the Managing Director of the National Film Finance Corporation, the UK’s government arm for investing in feature production and development.
Mamoun has just returned from the FILMS FROM THE SOUTH festival in OSLO
where he accompanied his close friend, co-writer and producer colleague
the leading South American director ANDRES WOOD to showings of his three
Machuca 2004 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood,(co-writer and co-producer Mamoun
Hassan) La Buena Vida 2008 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood (co-writer and co-producer
Mamoun Hassan) Violeta Went to Heaven 2011 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood
Andres’ latest work VIOLETA WENT TO HEAVEN took the World Cinema Jury
Prize at SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 and is appearing at this week’s BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL and will be on theatrical release in North America