Why did you make the film?
I wanted to accomplish three things with the movie:
1. I wanted to make a film that would get attention and also make people laugh.
2. I wanted to make a movie that was pro-peace and offered a message of hope.
3. I wanted to address the situation in an even-handed and balanced way so that Jewish and Arab audiences would feel fairly represented enough to let their guard down and laugh WITH the characters from the “other side”. I thought, if we can make a movie that Israelis will watch and like the Arab characters and that Arabs will watch and like the Israeli characters then that will be something valuable.

What problems did you encounter in making the film?
Many people said you can’t make a film that’s a comedy about a tragedy like the Middle East conflict. They said that no one wants to see that and you will end up offending every Jew and Arab in America. I was also advised against making a short movie that takes place in another country because it would be too expensive. They insisted I would never be able to pull it off and it would look student and cheap.
1. At first, I heeded their advice and I shelved the project for 5 months. It wasn’t until I started working with my co-writer, Kim Ray, that we returned to the project with a new perspective. We decided that it was necessary to simplify the situation in order to make it comedic. We wanted to show that both sides were more alike than they care to admit so we brainstormed a list of things that Arabs and Israelis have in common. When we came up with food and the premise of competing falafel stands, the script began to come to life.
2. A major challenge was balance in portraying both sides evenly. Our fear was that we might offend one side and then turn them off to the story. Therefore, we made sure that for every joke against one side we had one for the other. Likewise, for every endearing or heartfelt moment for the Palestinians we had to have one for the Israelis. Balance was crucial to staying credible. This balance carried over into every aspect of the film. The costumes had to be equally funny on both sides as did their restaurants and the personalities of the characters. I think we did a pretty good job of keeping it balanced.

What do you want the viewer to take away from the film?
I sometimes get remarks about the film being too simplistic and that it does not accurately show the suffering of any one side. I agree, it IS simplistic because it has to be in order to be a comedy. This film is not meant to be a learning tool for the situation in the Middle East. It is not an historical explanation, or a political solution on screen. It is a movie about HOPE and PEACE and that is it. It is meant to counteract the multitudes of negative documentaries and news reports that, while very informative, usually seem to be skewed to one side and ALWAYS leave the viewer feeling like this conflict will go on forever. I truly believe that peace between Israelis and Arabs will be achieved and don’t believe it is a hopeless endeavor. We wanted to make a film that would convey that feeling.

What was the process of making the film?
It took myself and my co-writer, Kim Ray, 5 months to write the script. It took another 7 months to produce the film, gather the donations and find the cast and crew. We then shot the film in 14 days which is long for a short film but there are 7 dance numbers and each one has an Israeli side and Palestinian side so it doubled our time. It took another 5 months to edit. The total time to make the film was about a year and a half before it premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival

What has been the response from Jews and Arabs?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both sides. I have had requests for Dvd’s from professors from Qatar, libraries in Egypt, soldiers in Israel, Palestinian families in Gaza, Elementary school teachers in Haifa, Jewish and Arab film festivals all over the United States, and the list goes on. The film played at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival and the Tel Aviv University Student Film Festival in Israel. It also played at the Dubai International Film Festival to a very warm reception and was screened there more than any other film at the festival. It was one of the best screening experiences I have ever had.

What is your background? Are you from the Middle East?
I was born in the United States and am the son of an Israeli father and an American mother. I studied Islam, Judaism, and the History of the Middle East in college and have traveled the Middle East extensively having been to Israel (almost every year), Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Dubai. I currently have family that live throughout Israel.

Where did you shoot the film?
The film was shot in Santa Clarita just outside of Los Angeles. A man named Rene Veluzet built an “Arab village” on his ranch designed specifically with the intention of shooting films there. It is really the only set like it in Los Angeles that can be used for an Arab town and is frequently used by studios, TV shows, and independent films that need to shoot Los Angeles for the Middle East.

What did you shoot the film on and what was your technical approach?
West Bank Story was shot with a partially donated camera package from Panavasion. We used a Panaflex Golden G2 camera, set of Primo prime lenses and a Primo zoom. We also used 1/4 Black Promist filtration to subtly soften the image and help highlights 'bloom' a bit, and added varying grades of Antique Suede and Coral filtration as well for the exterior scenes to strengthen the warm tones of the set, production design, and locations, including the dirt ground. The idea was to subtly emulate a classic high-key, high production-value, Hollywood look.

With a partial donation from Fuji Film, we shot 2 F-series Fuji stocks: Fuji 250D (8562) for day exteriors and interiors, and Fuji 500T (8572) for night exteriors and interiors.

We then finessed the look through digital intermediate color timing donated by Modern
Video Film, subtly accentuating the color palette (the poppy reds of the Hummus Hut set and wardrobe, the saturated blues of the Kosher King, etc).

How did you cast your actors?
Balance and even-handedness were very important in making this movie, the same was true with the casting. In some respects, I knew this would be one of the few times an Arab would be depicted in an American film representing the Palestinian cause and vice versa for the Israelis. I DID NOT want to do what was done in old Westerns which was to cast white people to play the parts of the Native Americans. I knew the film would be scrutinized so I wanted to make sure that both sides were fairly represented.

I knew I had a responsibility to cast either Arabs or Muslims for the roles of the Palestinians and Israelis or Jews for the roles of the Israelis if I wanted the film to be credible. I was lucky enough to hook up with Steven Helgoth, a reputable casting director in Los Angeles. We put out ads in the Breakdowns, called agents, and it took about a month to find the right people. All of the actors are professional actors and are now working on other projects and doing well.

I have been asked by many reporters whether the actors squabbled on set given their backgrounds. I find this question to be quite comical. The reality is that none of the actors knew each other before we shot the film but we have all become very good friends and hang out on a regular basis - Jews, Arabs, and everyone in between. The situation in the Middle East has never played a role in whether any of us can get along.

What film festivals has it been to?
It has been to over 115 film festivals and won 25 awards. It has played all over the United States and on every continent except Africa. Click on “Festivals” for more details.

Who did the music and what role did it play?
The music was created by Yuval Ron, a very well known and accomplished Israeli composer, who lives in Los Angeles. He has a tremendous knowledge and skill for combining Arabic music and Israeli/Jewish music together. He is also classically trained and was instrumental in making the ethnic sounds work with a Jazz and Broadway spine. I knew from the beginning that the music would be essential in further accentuating the characters and the flavor of the movie. Yuval, Kim (co-writer), and I worked for months before we even began producing the film to develop the sound, the songs, and the lyrics. Yuval was a crucial element in the overall feel of West Bank Story. This soundtrack is also one of the few examples that I know of that combines Palestinian-style rhythms with Jewish Klezmer sounds and then adds it to American Broadway. Very cool if I do say so myself.

How is making a short film different?
Short Films differ from studio and feature films because you don’t have a major studio to back you up, you don’t usually have big name actors, and you definitely don’t ever have the money you need to make your vision a reality. Therefore, it relies on perseverance, fortitude, stick-to-it-ivenes, and an ability to hustle. It requires an incredible amount of loyalty and dedication from a cast and crew who are doing it for pennies, if not, for nothing. It is really the very essence of filmmaking because those involved do it because they love the project or they just love filmmaking.

How did you get the movie made?
We were able to make the movie with a lot of help and donations from people in the industry and from friends and family. I was able to get a very effective and helpful group of industry and USC mentors including Barbara Corday, Brenda Goodman, Jeremy Kagan, Robert Chartoff, Dion Beebe, David Wasco, Gary Lucchessi, Moshe Barkat. and Gary Credle. These people were a huge help in making this film possible and enabling the ambitiousness of the project to be realized.

 

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