In this interview, Amer Shomali discusses his film debut The Wanted 18, including the filmmaking process, creative resistance during the first Palestinian Intifada, and why he chose talking cows as his protagonists. Shomali tells Noura Erakat that the mix of animation, comedy, and documentary was a vision that many funders dismissed as impossible, but that he believed the non-traditional resistance of the first intifada also required a non-traditional way of telling the story.
Wanted 18 premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014 and was screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Best Documentary from the Arab World), the Montreal International Documentary Festival, the Carthage Film Festival (Best Documentary), and the Talinn Black Nights Film Festival, among others. This past week, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights awarded it the Special Jury Prize.
The interview below includes five parts that you can click on separately. Please find the transcript of the interview below the player. The trailer for the film can be found below the transcript.
Amer Shomali (عامر شوملي) is a Palestinian multidisciplinary artist, using painting, digital media, films, installations and comics as tools to explore and interact with the sociopolitical scene in Palestine focusing on the creation and the use of the Palestinian revolution iconography. He holds a master’s degree in animation from the Arts University Bournemouth in the United Kingdom and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Birzeit University, Palestine. He was born in Kuwait in 1981 and is currently based in Ramallah, Palestine.
Transcribed by Samantha Brotman
Noura Erakat (NE): This is Noura Erakat, on behalf of Status Hour, or al-Wada`. We have with us Amer Shomali, the director of Wanted Eighteen, a thriller/comedy/documentary about eighteen Israeli cows that went missing in Beit Sahour during the first intifada. The film has been making an earthquake as a result of its debut throughout the Arab world and beyond and we are thrilled to have Amer with us here to discuss it. Welcome Amer to the program.
Amer Shomali (AS): Ahlan.
NE: Ahlan fik. Amer, can you tell us a little bit more about the plot of the film?
AS: Basically, the story takes place in Beit Sahour, my town. It is a little town very close to Bethlehem. The story takes place in the first intifada, 1987, when a group of activists decided to boycott the Israeli products and one of those products was the Israeli milk. The only source of milk was Tnuva, the Israeli milk. They decided to start a dairy farm. They went to a kibbutz and they bought eighteen cows. The thing is that none of them have ever seen a cow before. All of them are teachers and doctors and schoolteachers. So, basically, they were struggling how to milk the cow. It took them a while. But after that, they managed to get the milk out of the cow. The farm started to be a social hub where people go feed the cows, milk them, talk, discuss the future of the intifada and they started to call the milk "The Intifada Milk." However, the Israelis at some point realized that the farm is more than milk and they ordered its closure, and they told the Palestinians that you have twenty-four hours to shut down this farm, because those cows are a threat to the national security of Israel. And the story here starts to become bizarre because the Palestinians decided that they were not going to give up. They took the cows and they ran away. In the morning, the army discovered that the cows disappeared, so they sent the troops with two helicopters looking for the cows and the chase game lasted for almost four years, where the milk production was still going and the Israelis were chasing the cows. It is a funny story, but in a way it is telling the rules of the occupation, which [are] control and colonialism. On the other hand, it is telling the spirit of the intifada, which is creative resistance.
NE: I think that is absolutely right. The story does mix, there is a story about the narrative of a people in Beit Sahour, but it is also the story of the first intifada in a way that has not been captured in other documentaries. What this film offers is a documentary record of what happens during these four years between 1987 and 1991, the dynamics between people, between the Israeli occupation forces, as well as between the Palestinian leadership that comes to take place. I would like to focus a little bit on the aspect of what that creative resistance looked like. What you capture is a nature of boycott. Right now, boycott is very popular amongst the solidarity movement in solidarity with Palestine. But here you have the Palestinian boycott of Israeli products and it indicates the dimension of how much the Palestinian market is flooded with Israeli products. So that the act of boycott is actually the act of resisting being a captured market, but it requires having an alternative economy, which is not easy, it is almost impossible under occupation, as you show in the documentary. So, can you talk a little bit about this aspect of boycott and the creative resistance and alternative economy?
AS: The interesting thing, at that time, the boycott was not a part of punishing Israel. It was a move toward self-sustainability and independence. Basically, they were not only thinking of boycotting Israeli products. They were thinking of finding homemade alternatives, so they started this movement of having chickens, rabbits, planting every available piece of land with vegetables and fruits. So, basically they were creating an alternative and parallel economic system. That was the threat that is not only a reaction to something happening in Gaza, for example, like what is happening nowadays. It is more strategic thinking of how can we be separated from the occupation system in every means. That way of thinking was basically in the boycott. For example, the Palestinians, when you change the time between winter [and] summer (tawqit sayf wa al-shatwi), the Palestinian leadership inside Palestine at some points will say that we are changing the time tomorrow, even though Israel is changing it in a week, for example. But as a metaphor that we control everything in this land, they started to ask the people that will start working in the winter timing tomorrow. So, everybody will change their watches. The Israelis, even for that very silly thing, they will chase people, they will look at their hand watches. If you are following the Palestinian time, you will be punished and jailed. It was a struggle over who is in charge, basically, and how can we be separated in every way.
NE: And it begs the question of what options do Palestinians have today to do something very similar, given that we have a bloated public sector, forty percent of which is employed by the Palestinian Authority and largely in security forces? The focus on agriculture is so key and yet not part of our discussions and framework. I think the number is that in 1990, right in the aftermath of the peace process, the agricultural sector constituted twelve percent of the Palestinian national budget. That number now has dropped to one half percent.
AS: Yes. Now it is one half, exactly. It is one half. It is extremely bizarre that now the struggle between the Palestinians and the Israelis is how to gain more land. Yet the budget of agriculture is one half. It is a shame. Basically, during the first intifada people were trying to do that, to be separated from the Israeli occupation system. But now after Oslo, there is protocol we actually signed that we are not allowed to do that. In the Paris Protocol, I do not know if you read, that there are very strange things like export and import—what we are allowed to import and what we are not. Even when we import animals, it is kind of makhsees so we cannot reproduce our own animals.
NE: [Noura Interprets] Neutered.
AS: Neutered. Exactly. When you cross the border they say you are not allowed to bring back any kind of seeds or dates unless there are no seeds in it. We signed on that in the Paris Protocol, that we are not allowed to try again to be separated from the Israeli system.
NE: I mean, I think that, metaphorically, Paris Protocol also neuters Palestinian resistance, which is exactly what you are describing, and colludes as well the mal-distribution of water entrenched in the Oslo Accords. So that, for example, the farmers in the Jordan Valley, because of their lack of access to water and their inability to challenge their access to water because of the terms of the Oslo Accords, have been displaced from their homes. Now there is tumbleweed that juxtaposes a billion-dollar palm date industry as well in the Jordan Valley. But there is still talk today of different types of boycott. You suggested that in the first intifada it looked like this was just about self-sustainability. Today, it comes up as a form of punishment. Can you say more about that?
AS: Basically, now the boycott, especially in this circumstance, is more like a reaction. It grows when Israel attacks Gaza, for example, and after a while it is back to normal, the Israeli products are back to the market. This was not the case in the first intifada. They were convinced in what they are doing. But nowadays, something was broken in Oslo: the trust between the leadership and the people. The people do not trust the leadership anymore. In one way or another, when you call for boycott, they say that we tried that and eventually got betrayed by our leaders. In a way, I think that if I am buying Israeli product here, the Israeli will get so much money. If I am boycotting that, I have to buy products made by also some rich guy having commercial relationships with Israelis. So, in a way, the people here are trying to punish themselves even. It is very sad.
NE: But it is a good point. The fact is that there is no independent source of sustainable products that would not somehow reify the occupation, because this business elite is inextricable from the Israeli business elite and the structure of the occupation. In many ways, this masks itself as economic peace. But what it does is it entrenches the way that the occupation operates, but masquerades as some sort of collaboration.
NE: In the film, there is this tragic turning point where those that you interview and many of the characters that you interview are well known to those of us who know the struggle. So it was very interesting to watch them also be featured in your documentary and be part of this history. But there is a turning point where they are angry. They are angry that their resistance and the intifada has been stripped and ended without discussion with them, without their will, from outside forces, from Yassir Arafat in a leadership in exile that enters into the Oslo Accords and returned, and abruptly ends with what they feel is just the beginning of something huge.
AS: All of those characters in the film are well achieved nowadays. Dr. Majed Nassar is the head of Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP), which is a big medical organization. All are well achieved. Ghassan Andoni was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But still, they feel that the best time of their life was during the intifada because they felt satisfied. The problem is that the whole ethics of our society have changed. Basically, during the intifada, your value as a human being would come from how much you give to the community, how many creative ideas are you going to propose in one of those communities. Nowadays, your value as a human being is how much you owe in the bank, how much money you have. Those people felt betrayed that they gave the maximum they could during the intifada but eventually everything went for nothing. Especially in the end of the film, when the credits roll, they express that and they say things like, "We were kings. We were controlling our destiny. We were full of initiatives." And then the say, "But many of my friends got killed and jailed and to get this. I do not want to say I regret, but we did not do all of that for this. We got nothing." That really hurts when you see it from those people. During the interviews, when we were talking about the initiatives, the cows, they were smiling. All of their body language was so excited. And when we started talking about how the intifada ended and about Oslo, you feel the whole body language change; you feel that immediately they got tired, they got angry. When I reach that part in the interview, I feel so sad, so sad. It is a trauma. Those people are traumatized.
NE: I do not think anyone can blame them. I do not know if you follow a lot of political media outlets—but there is always this returning headline, "Is this the beginning of the Palestinian`s third intifada?" It is really interesting how the invocation of an uprising, which is this mass movement of a critical mass of the population, an upheaval against their structural conditions which costs lives and costs time and costs livelihoods, and it is just thrown around as if it can happen easily. It takes for granted how dismally the first intifada ended so abruptly. What is known as the second intifada, how violent it was and how it was ended. There is nothing to be shown for the Palestinians that this is going to be worth while, because there is an elite status that is controlling their destinies in ways that they do not have a say in. So this is not just about the occupation, but this is about the occupation`s consequences, or the outsourcing of the occupation to the Palestinian security forces or to the Palestinian national leadership which controls the Palestinian people in ways that both adds a layer of domination but also removes the ability for Palestinians to control their own lives. You are describing that brilliantly. I think, in our discussions of whether or not there is going to be a third intifada it takes for granted this dimension of the people, of whether or not they are willing to enter now into a third time.
AS: Right. Maybe there will be a third intifada, but it is not going to be the same as the second or the first intifada. The question is against whom the third intifada will happen. In the second intifada, that the new generation witnessed, whenever you see the people angry about things, they start to think, "Are we willing to go through a third intifada that looks like the second intifada?" What this film is representing, it is bringing back the first intifada to the table. I am not saying that the first intifada model is the right thing. But the creative way of thinking is the right thing. You should take the spirit of the first intifada and think what can we do nowadays with the new layers we have, which is the businessman/politicians, and the occupation, and the bank system. I do not know if you read it but most of the Palestinians now are in debt to the banks. So now whenever you want to think of an intifada people will start thinking of the banks and the loans they have and whether they are going to lose their houses or their cars. Because we got stuck in a system where you cannot really move or think of objecting to anything in it. We got stuck.
NE: Amer, was this something that you were thinking about when you made this film? Was the message of, "Let us think about creative resistance," was that something that motivated you in creating the film?
AS: Yeah. When I get back to Palestine, when I get a chance to meet the real people—because usually I was reading about them and stories and comic books and letters from our family inside Palestine from one time to another—I get the chance to meet those people and I get to know the details of those stories, how creative they were. So basically it is not what they were doing that puzzled Israel. It is how fast they were creating something new. So whenever they did something, Israel would start to think how to react to that, they would start something new. And Israel was always a step or two steps behind the Palestinians. We were so creative in the way of resisting and thinking out of the box. Nowadays, we are stuck. Even when we think we want to do an intifada, we think our two options are the first intifada or the second intifada. That was not the case in the first intifada. People had no model. Every town or city or small village created its own special ways, depending on weaknesses, strengths, and the possibilities they had in their community. So basically, when you say, "What is the spirit of the first intifada?" I would not say boycott or throwing or stones or whatever. I would not say something that specific. I would say it is the creative way of thinking regarding creative resistance.
NE: Speaking of creative resistance, what you do in the film is absolutely remarkable because you combine many of your artistic talents in making the film and not only do you produce a documentary history that is really enjoyable to watch, but you almost create a new genre because you mix in your use of comics and your talent. You create comics. You personify the cows as Israelis and you mix this cartoon element with the actual documentary of real-time footage in the present day, as well as archival footage from the first intifada. What I think you do is you create a new genre of how one can make a documentary film. Can you talk a little bit about your process in bringing all those elements together?
AS: As you might know, I have no experience in filmmaking. I am not a filmmaker. This was my first trial. When we presented the film as a mix between animation, comics, and documentary, people—especially the TV stations and the funders—said that this film is impossible to do, that films are not done this way. It was a risk. Some believed in this and they gave me a chance. Eventually, I think it worked. Partially, I was thinking that if you want to express the creativity of the first intifada, the thinking out of the box, rebelling against the classical way of resistance, rebelling against the occupation, against the structure, you need to represent that also in the way you are doing the film. So, I wanted something creative, a non-traditional way of telling the story of non-traditional resistance. So basically, in one way or another, the spirit of making this film is kind of reflecting the spirit of the intifada.
NE: I did not think about that but I think that is absolutely right. One of the things that I found so enjoyable was your personification of the cows. They are Israeli cows, they were bought from a kibbutz. So they are female Israeli cows, each with a distinct personality, who do not like Palestinians at all except of course for the one liberal Zionist cow who thinks that they are okay and we can make peace for them. Can you tell us a little bit about where your inspiration was for each of these cows and their names and their personalities?
AS: One of the early choices we made in this film was that we wanted the cows to be kind of the main characters in the film, they’re narrators, so they are the heroes of the film. When we screened in the Toronto film festival, people asked how come the cows are telling the film. I said that it is easier for the Western audience to sympathize with a cow than sympathize with a Palestinian. I chose those cows as Trojan cows. They lead you into the story, everybody will love the cows with their eyes, their beautiful eyelashes, their personalities, and they will take you into the life of Palestinians. No matter if you are pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli you will love the cows and you will listen to the story until the end. Eventually you will get to know what it means to live under the occupation, especially during the first intifada. I wanted those cows to be as real as possible. I imagined to have real four Israeli girls coming to be hostages in Palestine. So, we picked four main characters: the old Israeli cow, which hates the Palestinians, doesn`t like them at all; the Madonna fan, the Tel Aviv girl; the peacenik cow; and the young shit head cow, the one who serves in the army. Eventually, they change based on that. I wish we had more time and more money to give the transformation of those cows more time, but this is what we could do. So, basically, it is the story of those four cows moving from being Israeli cows living in a kibbutz, to cows living in the Palestinian farm with non-expert Palestinian farmers. The way they criticize Palestinians in the beginning was for political things. Eventually, they start criticizing Palestinians for not being able to milk them. But eventually, at the end of the film, they started to like Palestinians and to get to know how Palestinians feel. They will take the audience with them through this journey.
NE: Yeah and what you do is you take the actual events, so when the cows arrive in Beit Sahour and actually somehow get released from the truck and then they make a run for it. You take these documentary events but you personify it. What the cow must have been thinking, and in that moment here are these Israeli cows trying to run away as fast as possible from the Palestinian. You do that throughout, where you take these documentary incidents and yet you personify them in the journey of the cow. The end is very touching when these cows suddenly develop a disdain for the Israeli army.
AS: Basically, we were trying also to learn the boundaries between what is real and what is not real. It is kind of, everything is fairy tale, everything is true. The cows’ emotions and the cows’ motivations are true because they are part of the human story also. They say that the cows run away and the cows are telling you why they ran away. We are blending the boundaries between the documentary and the fantasy in a way that we give a hint that this might be true. People started to be convinced that maybe the cows were thinking in a way that they did not like the Palestinians. That made the cow more believable and true characters.
NE: Tell us a little bit about the making. You made the film with another director named Paul Cohen, so I am just curious, how did you meet him? Did you make the cartoons on your own? Did you write the script first and then script the cartoons? Was it something that was in the making, a more organic process? Can you tell us a little bit about the making of [the film]?
AS: Basically, we started working on the film like five years ago: financing the film, writing the script, and doing the research. At some point during the film, we got Paul as a co-writer and co-director. We had many financial problems that I was not allowed to direct the film by myself because I do not have good experience and because I do not have a recognized nationality. Eventually, we thought it would be fun to work with Paul. He is like sixty-eight years old, experienced documentary filmmaker, and I come from a different background, which is comics and visual arts and sarcastic TV shows. To mix those two things, a hard-core documentary filmmaker with somebody who is interested in the fantasy world and the comics and the sarcasm, got really something interesting in the writing phase and in the directing phase. It was fun to work with Paul. Many of the Palestinian films, when we write them and direct them, because we are part of the story we do not focus on many details that we think are very normal or very granted, we take it for granted. But having somebody who had never been to Palestine and had never met a Palestinian before, when we were writing he would ask some questions, which were stupid questions, but it was legitimate because he as an audience has the right to know. I assume as a Palestinian that everyone would know. Palestinians usually assume that Palestine is the center of the universe and it is not.
NE: It isn`t?
AS: No, I am sorry. [Laughs] So basically, we kept trying to write the film in a way that the audience who do not know anything about Palestine will get to understand the story, but at the same time when Palestinian audiences watch the film, they will not get bored with details they think are daily life for them. When we decided to have the cows as main characters, that solved a lot of problems. We only gave the context needed to understand the story of the cows in one way or another, while everything around it got to be seen through the story of the cows.
NE: You know, that was something that occurred to me as I was watching it because your Palestinian characters mostly speak in English, with the exception of one person. Then you have two Israelis that appear to speak in Hebrew. That is translated into English. I wondered, who was this intended for? If it was a Palestinian audience, wouldn`t they have spoken in Arabic? Yet it seemed not to be made for Palestinians, but obviously, you are saying that it was and their entertainment was taken into consideration. So, how did you make the decision that they would do the interviews in English?
AS: The thing is, most of the finance for the film came from TV stations. So, basically, the version you have seen is the English version, which is going to be screened on North American TV. We have another copy, we are now in the final stages. I did the interviews twice, I did double interviews, the same interviews in English I did in Arabic. We are now editing the Arabic version, where everybody is speaking in Arabic, even the cows and me. That will be the Arabic version for the Middle East. We have a third version where we have everything subtitled in French and the cows and me speaking in French. So there are three versions of the film with three languages: North American version, which is mainly English, the French version, and the Arabic version. So, the Arabic version is on the way but due to production plans we had to produce three different versions of the same stories, the same interviews, same music, same everything, but different languages for broadcasters.
NE: That is a tremendous amount of work. It is not just changing the language or the subtitles. Re-doing the interviews means that you are re-doing the film. That is very taxing on your interviewees, but also on you as the filmmaker, to put it together and piece it together all over again. Does it feel like you are making three films instead of one?
AS: Yes. But I think it is worth it. I think that the language factor makes the film more accessible and I love that. I love that when we presented the film in Canada, for example, people got to understand everything and to hear the story from the first-hand witness in English, where there is no translation, where you do not have to read the subtitles and forget to look into their eyes. So you look into the Palestinians eyes and he is speaking your language and telling you the story. And many people get, in one way or another, surprised. Especially in Canada, for example, they do not see that many Palestinians. They came after the film and the said, "We never saw this face of Palestinians." And this is another issue I will tell you now about, which is basically the archives. One, the archives we had in Palestine during the intifada were the archives forced on us by the international media. They were here, they were filming, but they were interested mainly in the bloodshed and the demonstrations, shuhada’.
NE: [Noura interrupts] Martyrs.
AS: [Amer continues] Burned tires. The media were trying to show us as the absolute victim or as the terrorists, but the stories we were interested in for our film, plantation, raising animals, education, teaching kids in the houses, all of those daily stories were not part of the priority for the media. So when we were looking at the archives, none of those stories were there. Here comes the role of animation and recreation. We tried to recreate an alternative archive the way we wanted to present ourselves if we had the chance to film things in the first intifada. Many of the visuals you see in this film are not seen before because in other documentaries, classical documentaries, there is no footage of it. You will never find footage of a guy raising chickens, for example. But we could do that because we have animation, we have comics. So we recreated this alternative archive to show how life looked in Palestine during the first intifada.
NE: But you also found really precious archival footage of Palestinians during the first intifada doing precisely what you are saying, which is sumud [Arabic for resilience], endless creative resistance. Not just the hoard images of either being the victim or the terrorist.
AS: Those were not a part of the media archives, those are homemade videos and some solidarity movement activists who were here, but not the classical archives we look at in the Associated Press or Magnum or all of those TV stations. When we announced that we were working on a first intifada story in Beit Sahour, many people in Beit Sahour began to call us and tell us, "We have this amount of photographs," or "I have a little footage on a VHS," or whatever. So ninety percent of the archives we used in the film was delivered to us by the subjects themselves. Without them we never would have been able to locate these kinds of archives, because it is very personal and first-hand. For example, the part where we are talking about planting things, it is a homemade video.
NE: So tell us a little bit about, so obviously the people of Beit Sahour are not only helping you make this film, they are the film. They are the heart and soul of the film. So, what was their reaction when they saw it for the fist time? Did you have a premier for Beit Sahour specifically?
AS: The first premier we had like 1,200 people in Ramallah. I think 200 or 300 people came from Beit Sahour came to see the film. I think many of them felt—and it is not a reaction special to Beit Sahour—many of those who sacrificed the most in first intifada felt that they got a bit of appreciation for what they did. The energy after the screening was fascinating. It was a lot of positive energy. People were smiling; they wanted to talk, to chat. All of them brainstormed, they started to remember their own stories and the common stories between them and the film. It was a fascinating after-screening gathering because I think they felt that the film was a window to the past. They got the chance to look back at themselves at some point where they loved what they were doing the most and they respected themselves. I think they were very proud and they were very happy.
NE: Did you get any negative reactions?
AS: Yeah, of course we got some negative reaction. Not everybody agreed with our political analysis to the ending of the intifada and the way Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) intervened in the intifada, which I can understand. Some people also were not sure about using the two Israeli characters in the film. They felt that you are presenting Israelis in a Palestinian film, which you can also understand that. I do not agree with that, but I understand that.
NE: I actually had that concern. It was something that, here is this film entirely made by Palestinians of Palestinians by Palestinians, in many ways, as you were saying, for Palestinians. And then, the first Israeli appears to discuss resistance in Beit Sahour, and I could not help but think, did you really need a soldier and an intelligence officer to tell us about what resistance was in Beit Sahour. I wondered, what was your thinking around bringing these Israeli officers to help tell the story?
AS: At the beginning we were trying to access the archives of the army to get the reports of chasing the cows, the photos they have, and they kept rejecting our application. Eventually, we sent the Canadian crews to do the interviews and after three or four years they gave us permission. I was not allowed to go to the interviews but the Canadian crew went. So basically, one of the things during the making of the films, many of the people when we present the story, they say, "This cannot be true, this is not a true story, it is so bizarre." Especially when you hear the Israelis talking about it as if it is something normal, "Yeah we were chasing cows and we did not want the Palestinians to have self-sufficiency." You see things in a different perspective. I am against Israeli and Palestinian films if they are telling a different narrative. In our case, they were telling what the Palestinians are saying, the way they were punishing Palestinians, the way they were trying to end the intifada. For me, it gave depth and more credibility to the story internationally, not Palestinian-wise necessarily. I do not know, whenever I pull those two characters out of the timeline when we were editing, I felt that something was missing. Usually, in Israeli films, they try not to have any Palestinian faces because they do not want to give us this chance to tell our narrative. I understand that they are afraid of our presence, they are trying to eliminate us even visually, with the wall, with the checkpoints, with everything. But I do not have this phobia of seeing an Israeli on the screen in a Palestinian film if he is telling honestly what he was doing to the Palestinians during the first intifada.
NE: You bring up an interesting point, this idea of credibility. This is very pervasive. Often times a Palestinian telling a story, whether it be a political analysis, whether it be oral history, or it could be a historian even doing archival work that tells the story of Palestinians. They do not have the same resonance, the same credibility, as when an Israeli tells that story. Part of it is part of the dehumanization of Palestinians and part of it is just that Palestinians are too close to the source to be able to be objective. And it is a very pervasive issue, one that we are challenged with all the time. I am sure you do not believe it, but this idea but this idea that this has more credibility when an Israeli says it is something that we deal with all the time and you have obviously dealt with it here again.
AS: Yeah. Our problem is not only that they do not believe us, they cannot sympathize with us. I do not think that many of the western of audience sees us as humans. This is why I said that I wanted the cows to be the narrators, because I am sure that they will have more sympathy for the cows than for the Palestinians. Eventually, I was aiming to tell the story in any possible way. So, if they are not going to listen to me to the end, I am going to ask the cows to tell the story. If they at some point say, "No this is a Palestinian myth and this did not happen." I will bring an Israeli guy to tell you that this happened. I want the story to be out there no matter what.
NE: I think one of the things you capture, something that Palestinians know so well, is just the absurd nature of what Israel considers a security threat. Almost everything is a security threat. And here you have in this film, and you mentioned this earlier, the idea that cows are also a security threat. But what is really at issue is the idea that Palestinians could be independent and that Palestinians could be self-sustaining and without need for this dependence on an Israeli economy, which is both oppressive and extractive and exploitative.
NE: I want to just end by asking, Amer, this is your first film. You are a sculpture, you are a painter, you make comics. I feel like this is just the first film of a broad portfolio, and also something of much more to come. Can you tell us about any of your next projects?
AS: I was busy with this film for the last five years. So, now that it is done, I literally do not know what to do next. I feel lost. [Laughs] I am doing a little bit of painting here and there nowadays and thinking of what to do next. I have a science fiction story in my head but I am not sure if I have enough energy to go through making another film right after this one. I got exhausted in this film, it sucks my energy. I do not know.
NE: I think that you are right. I think that maybe my question is wrong. I should have asked you, Amer, how will you rest, and celebrate, and regenerate in this time?
AS: [Laughs] Basically now we are touring with the film, so we are screening at festivals and I am seeing the reaction of Palestinians and non-Palestinians toward the film. I am enjoying that. I am enjoying that after five years, I am screening the film, and I am saying that this is what I wasted my past five years doing. When I see the reaction I feel that it was well spent.
NE: I could not agree more. We look forward to having you, hopefully, to premier your film at the D.C. Palestinian Film and Arts Festival in 2015. You can see the reaction that you will have here. Hopefully we will have you as well in the flesh.
AS: If I get the visa, yes, sure.
NE: [Laughs] Most Palestinian story. Alright, Amer, tisslam `ala kul juhudatak wa-hadithak ma`ana [Thank you for all your efforts and discussion with us]
AS: Tisslamak [Thank you]. Bye.