“Paradise Now” made history last week by becoming the first Palestinian film to receive a Golden Globe award. The film, directed by Nazareth native Hani Abu-Assad, along with Bero Beyer, won the acclaimed award for best foreign film, opening the door for nominations to both the Grammy and Oscar awards.
Presenting the very personal story of two friends from the West Bank town of Nablus who are chosen to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, “Paradise Now” has attracted praise for its political message as well as for its success as a work of art.
Both Palestinian and Israeli actors, including co-star Qais Nashef from the Israeli-Arab town of Taybeh, are presented in the movie, which was filmed in Israel and the West Bank.
Abu-Assad told reporters that he was happy with the film’s potential to raise awareness about Palestinians as well as show an unprecedented and close-up look at the human component of the contraversial issue of suicide bombings.
He stressed that he did not try to take sides in the film, but rather, he attempted to present a point of view often not depicted.
"I am surprised that we won but I don't believe my film is controversial. It just shows something from a different side that we are all worried about," reported Reuters.
"It is a work of cinema. Cinema shows you different points of view," he added, saying that the film doesn't impose a specific point of view but rather attempts to portray "something invisible and that has never been done before."
"Palestine is still not a state," said Abu-Assad, "and now we are being recognized as people who are entitled to be free. That is my real accomplishment," he said according to the AP.
Filming for “Paradise Now” was as eventful and oftentimes dangerous as the conflict the film was attempting to portray. At one point, gunmen protesting what they believed was a negative portrayal of Palestinians, briefly kidnapped a cameraman. At another point, an Israeli missile attack jolted the crew where they were filming nearby. The set was then transferred to an Arab town in Israel where there was less chance of interruption or danger.
Despite the fact that theaters in some 60 countries worldwide have screened the film, “Paradise Now” remains to be shown in Nablus.
One obstacle is the lack of a movie theater in the city - shut down five years ago when such entertainment was deemed a frivolous backdrop to the war with Israel.
In addition, debate continues throughout the West Bank as to whether the film is a true portrayal of reality in Palestine.
"This movie doesn't help the Palestinian cause," one man in Nablus told reporters, expressing the beliefs of some.
After seeing trailers of the film on satellite stations such as Al Jazeera, many have concluded that the film does too little to portray bombers as being heroic, or to depict them as devout Muslims.
Others feel that such a film is simply insignificant in a world where survival can be a daily struggle.
"We have enough problems with people who can't put food on the table," said one Nablus resident. Another expressed his belief that the film would never have succeeded in winning the award had it not been "good for Israel."
Others, however, maintain that allowing the film to be viewed freely is important for the Palestinian cause.
"How can we be called a democratic people if we don't let someone film a movie in Nablus?" said one Palestinian businessman.
Meanwhile in Israel, a similar controversy brews. Though banned in general theaters, several independent cinema houses continue to screen the film and attract viewers.
Abu-Assad said that he received many compliments regarding the film from Israelis, who generally have limited access to alternate narratives of the conflict raging in their midst due to censorship by the Israeli government.
"These reactions and congratulations warm my heart," he said according to Haaretz.
Co-producer of the film, Amir Harel, an Israeli Jew, told reporters that he hoped the film "would prompt people to take note of what is happening here," adding that “If the movie raises awareness or presents a different side of reality, this is an important thing.”