Although Madhi Fliefel is a very busy man, we managed to catch him for a quick chat before a screening of A World Not Ours at the Magnificent 7 Documentary Festival in Belgrade and learnt that from there he was heading straight to Berlin, where his new film, Xenos, premiered last Saturday at the Berlin Film Festival. Meanwhile, Fleifel is keeping an eye on the newly launched crowdfunding campaign to take A World Not Ours to the 2015 Academy Awards.
Before anyone questions the legitimacy of awarding Oscar nominations based on successful crowdfunding campaigns, I should note that this is, of course, a simplification, so perhaps a bit of background would help. Fleifel’s multiple award-winning 2012 film, following three generations of life in the Palestinian refugee camp at Ein al-Hilweh in Lebanon, has been doing the rounds of the international festival circuit since 2012, picking up 12 awards and 17 nominations from Buenos Aires to Melbourne along the way.
A recurring theme, says Fleifel, has been jurors and reviewers citing the film as potential Oscar-winning material, so he can be forgiven for wondering how it failed to appear on this year’s shortlist.
“All these critics and jury members were saying this, so we did start to wonder why we weren’t even on the list,” he says. “It turned out to be a technicality. We hadn’t even thought about the Oscars, so we didn’t realise that to qualify for selection, a film has to have had a week’s theatre release in both New York and LA.”
As luck would have it, the film had already won the Grand Jury Prize at the Doc NYC festival, part of which was a week’s run at New York’s IFC Centre, so half the job was already done. Surely having successfully secured releases in France, the United Kingdom and Germany, it would be a simple enough matter to pick up an American distributor, get the film in a Los Angeles theatre and wait for the Oscar invite to arrive? Apparently not.
“The problem was, we’d already sold it to US TV,” Fleifel explains. “So it was of little interest to US distributors, who would normally make their money by selling it to TV, so we figured we should try and make it happen, but we’d have to raise the money ourselves.”
Fleifel and his production partner Patrick Campbell considered the traditional struggling-artist route of scraping together their savings and raising the US$30,000 (Dh110,000) they estimate they’d need for the release themselves, but decided instead to try out the crowdfunding route.
“We thought it would be more fun, first, to try to involve our audience. Secondly, by going down this route, we can provide more publicity for the film, too, as we have a mass of people behind it.
“We’ve had big audiences for the film all over the world, from Brazil to Japan, but part of our problem has been that we haven’t really managed to show it to the right people. We need Michael Moore to endorse it or something like Werner Herzog did for The Act of Killing [Herzog came on board as executive director of the 2012 film about the Indonesian government’s death squads of the 1960s after seeing an early screening] and this is one way of getting more people to hear about it.”
It’s encouraging to hear that, with the financing secured, the process of procuring an LA cinema slot is a relatively simple one. As Fleifel explains: “Not a lot of people know, but there’s a guy who has theatres in LA and will rent them out to help with Oscar qualification. You may not get the best slot, but we don’t really care about that – it’s purely a box-ticking exercise.”
With the boxes ticked, the real work begins and the first stage is making the shortlist. “Just getting to the shortlist would be a massive victory in itself,” says Fleifel.
“But I do genuinely believe that this is one of the best 16 documentaries that have been screening over the last year or so.
“After that we need to start lobbying the Academy members to actually see the film and vote for it, because that’s who votes for the final nominations. If we can get that far, I think the film has a lot of the qualities that Academy members look for. Although it’s about Palestine, it’s not really a political film. It’s about family, memory and exile.
“But we’re just taking it one step at a time. We wouldn’t even have thought about the Oscars were it not for all the encouragement we’re getting, but with festival jury members all over the world telling us to go for the Oscars, we felt we had to give it a go.”
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