Sunday, 10 April 2016

A Little Perspective

So I had lunch with a Hollywood film-maker the other day. As you do. Michael Singh is the Director of the epic Valentino's Ghost, a documentary looking at the portrayal of Arabs on film and in the media, and questioning whether the stereotyping of Muslims rises from the 'special relationship' between the US and Israel.

First released in 2012, it was re-released last year and includes heavyweight interviews with the likes of Robert Fisk, Gore Vidal, Anthony Shadid and Niall Ferguson among others. And a teeny tiny snippet of yours truly, to chronicle the rise of Aljazeera and other Middle East media trying to balance the anti-Arab ideology.

Whatever your take, and it's a difficult issue with the insidious shadow of ISIS now lurking everywhere, it's a fascinating tale. From the 1920's romantic hero (as played by Rudolph Valentino) to the hook-nosed embodiment of evil, the way Arabs and Muslims are portrayed on film, radio, TV and even cartoons has changed radically. (Remember Disney's Aladdin? The opening song features these lyrics: "Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face, it's barbaric, but hey, it's home." These lines were later changed.) 

The documentary seeks to question why these images persist,and how it links back to US foreign policy, but it's had a tough sell. 

It received a standing ovation in Venice, played successfully in Amsterdam, headlined at the Doha Tribeca film festival and was shown in several art-house venues in the US. But a wider US audience has been hard to come by - in one instance Michael was told it was "too politically hard-edged", in another "it would alienate their Jewish membership."

Michael is philosophical. He says the US like their documentaries safe, and that's the way to make money. But if you step out on a limb, like he has done, it is way more thrilling. You just need to have a tough skin. 

He's already working on his next documentary. I'm sure it will cause just as many ripples. Watch this space.

No comments:

Post a Comment