With Ennio Morricone’s theme music to A Fistful of Dollars, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Rana’s Wedding) introduces this unusually successful twist on what has become a genre of fly-on-the-wall documentaries about Palestinian life since the beginning of the Intifada. With his ninth film, Assad blurs the lines between narrative and documentary, reality and fiction as he follows the daily routes of erstwhile van driver (and professional actor) Rajai Khatib through and around the roads, roadblocks, and checkpoints of Ramallah and East Jerusalem. Passengers of all ages and classes climb in and out of his Ford, bringing their opinions, frustrations, and philosophy to the day’s travels in moments at once fresh and revealing, yet eerily familiar. Whether transporting a carload of singing children in clown makeup, highly placed diplomats (including Hanan Ashrawi), or even Israeli filmmaker BZ Goldberg (Promises, SFJFF 2001) through flat tires, gunfire, and jealous competitors, Rajai and his wreck of a ride somehow make their heroic journey through the day to find the next fare. Along the way we pick up an education in the perspectives of the average people on the streets, and of mundane life in the occupied territories.
After having studied and worked as an airplane engineer in the Netherlands for several years, Hany Abu-Assad entered the world of cinema and television as a producer. He formed Ayloul Film Productions in 1990 and worked on television programmes about foreign immigrants and films like DAR O DAR for Channel 4 and LONG DAYS IN GAZA for the BBC.
In 1992 Hany Abu-Assad wrote and directed his first short film, PAPER HOUSE. The film depicts the adventures of a thirteen year old Palestinian boy, who tries to build his own dreamhouse after his family’s original house has been destroyed. PAPER HOUSE was made for NOS Dutch television and won several international awards at film festivals, a.o. in Paris and Jerusalem. One year later Hany produced the feature film CURFEW, directed by Rashid Masharawi. An international co-production between Argus Film Productions, WDR, ARTE and AVRO, CURFEW was critically highly praised, winning awards like the Gold Pyramid in Cairo, the Unesco Prize in Cannes and three additional prizes in Montpellier.
After his second short THE 13TH, which he wrote, produced and directed, Hany embarked on his first full-length feature project as a director. He teamed up with writer Arnon Grunberg to develop a script that challenged and explored cinematic narrative and style in a comedy about a couple in Amsterdam. The film entitled THE FOURTEENTH CHICK was the opening film for the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht 1998.
Other recent works include the bittersweet documentary NAZARETH 2000, which Hany made for Dutch VPRO television. The turmoil in a divided city and its quarrelling inhabitants, Christians and Moslems, is viewed through the eyes of two gas station attendants. Combining both a kind and a satirical approach to a serious subject matter, Hany succeeded in creating a multifaceted and surprisingly humorous documentary.
Since the establishment of Augustus Film with Bero Beyer in 2000, Hany has been developing the scripts for PARADISE NOW (in Production) and RANA’S WEDDING, both full-length feature dramas. RANA’S WEDDING is a production realised with the support of the Palestinian Film Foundation of the Ministry of Culture of the Palestinian National Authority and describes a day in the life of a young woman in Jerusalem, during which she tries to get married before four o’ clock that day. The film was selected for the Semaine de la critique 2002 and went on to win prizes in Montpellier, Marrakech, Bastia and Cologne.
His latest film, FORD TRANSIT was the surprise of Sundance Film festival 2003. The film won the ‘Fipresci Jury Award’ during the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the ‘2003 Nestor Almendros Award’ for courage in filmmaking at the Human Rights Film Festival in New York, the ‘In the Spirit of Freedom Award 2003’ at the International Jerusalem Film Festival. Ford Transit was also the winner of the Ulysses Award for Best Documentary at the 25th Mediterranean Film Festival of Montpellier and in march 2004 it won the ‘The Sergio Vieira de Mello Award’ at the 2nd International Film Festival on Human Rights in Geneva.