Documentary about first intifada making film festival rounds

A documentary about 18 cows in a Palestinian town that became a symbol of independence during the first intifada will be shown at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
A scene from The Wanted 18. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada
A scene from The Wanted 18. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada

The story of how The Wanted 18 secured its world-premiere status at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) stretches all the way back to the 1980s, when its co-director was a 6-year-old boy living in a Syrian refugee camp.

That was when the young Amer Shomali read a comic book about how Israeli soldiers had searched high and low in his hometown of Beit Sahour for 18 wanted cows.

Seen as a symbol of independence during the first Palestinian intifada, the cows provided the people of Beit Sahour with a means of producing milk when almost all food and goods were being exclusively sold through Israeli suppliers. When Israeli occupants saw pro-independence demonstrations in the town, they worried that similar scenes would begin in other areas within the West Bank and dubbed the cows a national security threat to Israel.

What ensued was a cat-and-mouse geopolitical game in which the Palestinian townsfolk repeatedly moved the cows so that they could continue their dairy-production operation unimpeded, while Israeli soldiers – and their helicopters – scoured Beit Sahour to find them. The irony of the situation was that the townspeople had bought the cows from Israelis in the first place.

“There are some stories you can’t just tell in a political cartoon or comic-book strip,” says Shomali, who is based in Ramallah. “You need something bigger, which is this documentary.”

Shomali had previously created an animated short called Dying of the Light, but The Wanted 18 is his first feature-length film. It has become an extension of the work he does at Zan Studios, which he co-founded, producing paintings, political cartoons and posters.

The film, which had its world premiere at TIFF on Saturday and was co-directed by Paul Cowan, begins in the style of a comic book, complete with Shomali’s illustrations.

As his recollection of the story he read as a child unfolds, it incorporates stop-motion animation using clay and silicon puppets similar to those in Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit films.

To a large degree, Shomali was forced to get creative in how he told his film’s story because little television footage exists of the actual events.

But creating animation in the Palestinian Territories proved to be complicated because of the dearth of talent and facilities, says Shomali.

“One of the suggestions was to bring Canadian animators to Palestine, have them stay here for a year and do the animation with non-professional animators so we could learn about the industry,” he explains.

However, following an attack on Gaza, Shomali and his team decided it would be safer and logistically easier to create the animations in Canada.

Shomali also splices in a few television news clips into the film, along with dramatic re-enactments and interviews with some of the individuals who helped to hide the cows, who recount what happened during the intifada between 1987 and 1993.

The movie was supported financially by Sanad, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s development and post-production fund, and has been chosen to screen at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October, says Shomali. It is also being shown in Ramallah later this month.

Published: September 7, 2014 04:00 AM


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