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People in Film: Basil Khalil

Sep 13, 2011

Basil Khalil was born and raised in Nazareth to a Palestinian father and English-Irish mother. In 2006 Basil pursued an MA in Producing & Script Development at Screen Academy Scotland, in Edinburgh and went on to make his debut feature documentary ‘Replay Revenge’, then produced and directed a number of short films.

He currently lives and works in London where he has co-written a TV series for Al Jazeera children’s channel and worked with such names as Ricky Gervais and Jamie Oliver. Basil’s first fiction feature screenplay ‘A Gaza Weekend’ has taken part in the Torino Film Lab and the Rawi Screenwriter’s lab in consultation with the Sundance Institute.

Basil’s short film ‘Ping Pong Revenge’:

DFI: Congratulations on your DFI grant for your feature ‘A Gaza Weekend’. Can you tell us more about it?
Basil: This film is a comedy set in Gaza. I can’t give out too much info yet, but in a nutshell it’s about Israel being under a strict embargo due to the breakout of a rampant virus, and Gaza is the only safe place due to its isolation. The film follows a young man from Gaza who’s smuggled some Israelis in for some much needed cash, but he is stuck with them in his basement not really sure how to get rid of them. The project is currently in the financing stage, and I hope to shoot it in autumn/winter 2012.

DFI: You have a mixed TV experience between Europe and the Middle East, and you are half European yourself, where do you see yourself more?
Basil: I’ve always seen myself as the “other” in either place I lived. For me home is where my bank statements are mailed to, like a Bedouin I don’t feel I belong to one patch of land. They call us third-culture-kids, people who come from mixed nationalities or expats brought up abroad, it is hard to explain it, but I feel I can live anywhere in the world and I’ll fit in, and being a filmmaker that is an excellent notion to have, and not be tied to one spot. Being brought up in a conflict-zone has given me a wider perspective on things, and it is certainly reflected in my style of story telling.

DFI: You’ve directed a feature documentary titled ‘Replay Revenge’, can you tell more about it?
Basil: I had just graduated from college, and wanted to make something different and fun. ‘Bowling for Columbine’ was just out and everyone was trying to emulate the Michael Moore style, including young naïve me. But mine was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen through the eyes of young people who just want to get on with life, trying to avoid being sucked into the cycle of revenge. The film was made for a microscopic budget of $5,000. I am very proud of its production-value and the message I managed to convey on such a small budget. The film was remade for Al Jazeera English when it first launched, but after Hamas won the elections in 2006 and the internal clashes with Fatah, Al Jazeera English decided to pull it off air fearing it might be a bit too provocative. That was a bit disappointing for me, but I guess it was the right decision.

DFI: On your first job, you were the assistant director of renowned filmmaker Elia Suleiman on his Cannes award winning film ‘Divine Intervention’, how do you describe this experience?
Basil: Yes, this was my first ever film job. I joined the crew as a runner, the first on set and the last to go home. My first task was blocking the streets in Nazareth for the shoot, and being the recipient of abuse from angry drivers who didn’t give two hoots if we’re filming a movie, they were hungry and heading home for lunch. Throughout the production I would cover for members of crew who would call in sick here and there and I managed to get hands on experience in every department. It was a 3 month shoot, and by the end of it I was doing 2nd assistant director work. I was like a sponge, observing and absorbing every small detail.

DFI: What does cinema mean to you?
Basil: Cinema is telling stories, at great expense, which people pay to watch. It is the best job ever, where I am paid to make people laugh or cry, happy or sad, to move them emotionally and make them forget their troubles for 90 minutes.

DFI: What are the main challenges you face in your career?
Basil: Not being 100% local and committed to one region has been quite a challenge, but not in a negative way. I have had to work harder to find my niche. It is a very competitive industry with very few success stories, and to make it I face huge challenges such as writer’s block, procrastinating when I’m supposed to be writing (all writers know what that’s about), poor spelling, constantly having to be on a tight budget and having to juggle freelance work that pays the bills and following a dream, the benefits of which I hope to reap later on in life.

DFI: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Basil: I would like to be known for my eclectic but consistently entertaining films. I wouldn’t mind having the career of Judd Apatow, a producer, writer and director for films and TV shows who has changed the face of comedy in Hollywood and has become a brand name in the industry. Is that too much to ask for?

DFI: What film/filmmaker inspired you the most and why?
Basil: The film ‘Johnny Stecchino’ by Roberto Benigni and ‘Great Expectations’ by David Lean. These two timeless films are very different yet at the same time tackle harsh underlying issues, yet as a viewer you don’t feel as if you’re being preached to. You kick back; enjoy the film and walk away enlightened. Among other films that have moved me are: ‘City of God’, ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’, ‘Empire of the Sun’, ‘Midnight Run’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Dr. Strangelove’, ‘In Bruges’, and of course ‘E.T’. They all combined a sense of fun within a serious topic and the unity of unlikely “friends”, methods I have implemented in my own films.

DFI: What is your message to filmmakers in the beginning of their career?

  1. Dream big, but remember that things don’t just happen overnight, look at the greatest filmmakers; most of them started their careers later on in life.
  2. There are so many niche disciplines within this amazing industry, apart from directing, find out what you’re good at and prepare to suffer for it.
  3. Have a thick skin; rejection is part of the game. Every “no” gets you closer to a “yes”.
  4. Plan for the worst, and when good things happen they will feel even better.

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