FESTIVALS AND AWARDS
- Sundance 2003
- FIPRESCI Award - Thessaloniki 2003
- NY Human Rights Watch
- Karlovy Vary
- Spirit of Freedom Award-Jerusalem Film Festival
- Munich DocFest
- Hot Docs
The life of young Rajai, a Palestinian taxi-van driver who struggles on a daily basis to get passed roadblocks and barriers, over detours and shortcuts from East Jerusalem to Ramallah and back again transporting passengers for three shekels a trip. His point of view on the Intifadah, the occupation, suicide attacks and life in general is mirrored by that of his passengers, ordinary people but also by politicians and other prominent Palestinians. A humorous look into the day-to-day lives of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation as it is seen, lived and witnessed through the windows, and on the seats of a Ford Transit (the main public transportation in the occupied West Bank). An entertaining film about a people enduring occupation for more than 30 years - introducing the out of the ordinary point of view of the ordinary people. Mixing fiction with documentary, the film melds music, humour and anger into a high-spirited critique of an infamous crisis.
After having studied and worked as an airplane engineer in the Netherlands for several years, Hany Abu-Assad entered the world of cinema and television as a producer. He formed Ayloul Film Productions in 1990 and worked on television programmes about foreign immigrants and films like DAR O DAR for Channel 4 and LONG DAYS IN GAZA for the BBC. In 1992 Hany Abu-Assad wrote and directed his first short film, PAPER HOUSE. The film depicts the adventures of a thirteen year old Palestinian boy, who tries to build his own dreamhouse after his family's original house has been destroyed. PAPER HOUSE was made for NOS Dutch television and won several international awards at film festivals, a.o. in Paris and Jerusalem. One year later Hany produced the feature film CURFEW, directed by Rashid Masharawi. An international co-production between Argus Film Productions, WDR, ARTE and AVRO, CURFEW was critically highly praised, winning awards like the Gold Pyramid in Cairo, the Unesco Prize in Cannes and three additional prizes in Montpellier. After his second short THE 13TH, which he wrote, produced and directed, Hany embarked on his first full-length feature project as a director. He teamed up with writer Arnon Grunberg to develop a script that challenged and explored cinematic narrative and style in a comedy about a couple in Amsterdam. The film entitled THE FOURTEENTH CHICK was the opening film for the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht 1998. Other recent works include the bittersweet documentary NAZARETH 2000, which Hany made for Dutch VPRO television. The turmoil in a divided city and its quarrelling inhabitants, Christians and Moslems, is viewed through the eyes of two gas station attendants. Combining both a kind and a satirical approach to a serious subject matter, Hany succeeded in creating a multifaceted and surprisingly humorous documentary. Since the establishment of Augustus Film with Bero Beyer in 2000, Hany has been developing the scripts for PARADISE NOW (in Production) and RANA'S WEDDING, both full-length feature dramas. RANA'S WEDDING is a production realised with the support of the Palestinian Film Foundation of the Ministry of Culture of the Palestinian National Authority and describes a day in the life of a young woman in Jerusalem, during which she tries to get married before four o' clock that day. The film was selected for the Semaine de la critique 2002 and went on to win prizes in Montpellier, Marrakech, Bastia and Cologne. His latest film, FORD TRANSIT was the surprise of Sundance Film festival 2003. The film won the 'Fipresci Jury Award' during the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the '2003 Nestor Almendros Award' for courage in filmmaking at the Human Rights Film Festival in New York, the 'In the Spirit of Freedom Award 2003' at the International Jerusalem Film Festival and was the winner of the Ulysses Award for Best Documentary at the 25th Mediterranean Film Festival of Montpellier.
"Latest gem from Palestinian helmer Hany Abu-Assad ("Rana's Wedding," "Nazareth 2000") is a jaunty absurdist documentary concentrating on one of the thousands of white Ford vans, formerly Israeli police cars, that ferry Palestinians from checkpoint to checkpoint along the West Bank. Assorted passengers hold forth on the political situation from the back seat while the driver, pic's putative hero, provides an ongoing lesson in seat-of-your-pants navigation through an endless military gauntlet. Skedded to open at the Film Forum later this summer, lively, likable docu should do well on the arthouse circuit before shifting to cable. With transport virtually at a standstill due to endless waits at impromptu army roadblocks, people rely upon the vans not, as before, to get them from city to city, but merely to get them from one temporary way station to the next. Early curfews in several districts further complicate the trek. Just about everyone agrees the long delays and road closings are devastating to average folks attempting to get on with their workaday existences while completely ineffectual in stopping anyone with anything to hide. In the course of the film, van driver Rajai, who traffics in counterfeit CDs on the side, easily smuggles his contraband, but is forced to drop off a couple of innocuous old ladies carrying baskets of "illegal" cucumbers. Opinion is divided as to why the Israelis insist upon these draconian, largely self-defeating measures that fuel the kind of frustration which can drive terrorism. Some, including van-riding Israeli helmer B.Z. Goldberg ("Promises"), theorize fear leads them to act irrationally, while others are convinced it's all part of a concerted effort to boot the Palestinians out. Though lacking the extraordinary emotional resonance of his 2001 feature "Rana's Wedding," docu quietly attests to the monotonous insanity of life under Israeli occupation. Abu-Assad leavens the mix with well-observed humour, particularly from ordinary citizens. When asked to weigh in on Bush's latest speech, one fare asserts that an American president with a low I.Q. is the true terrorism. Later, an argument stops abruptly when an attractive women climbs aboard; all the males sit in well-behaved silence until she leaves, at which point the fracas resumes at an escalated pitch. Inspired music choices ranging from traditional Arabic to gangsta rap provide a running commentary on tired people trudging through rubble to wait to be processed by the armed militia. Also heard: a generous helping of Morricone to herald the arrival of Rajai's white Ford. It is the raffish charm of Rajai, a young man who hates routine, has dreamt of becoming an Egyptian opera-singer -- but truly enjoys his job and the people he picks up, that gives the pic its energy. Boasting that Palestinians, like ants, can surmount any obstacle, this West Bank cowboy descends from his van to check out the roadway ahead -- only to be fired upon, at which point he hastily reenters exclaiming "no problem" and races back down the way he came. Pic closes with the van broken down in the middle of nowhere and Rajai walking away from the camera down the road, a fitting metaphor for political impasse on the Bush-touted "roadmap to peace.""
Ronnie Scheib, Variety
Ronnie Scheib, Variety