Elia Suleiman (BSS #374)

Elia Suleiman is most recently the writer and director of The Time That Remains.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Constantly examining his watch.

Guest: Elia Suleiman

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I wanted to touch back on a point you were making about the democratization of the audience with a specific ultimate…

Suleiman: The popcorn-less?

Correspondent: Well, the popcorn-less and those with popcorn. In Divine Intervention, there’s a wonderful clip involving your answer to The Matrix. The ultimate democratic video scenario, YouTube, features this clip and a quarter of a million people have seen the clip. A user named Firestarter89 offers this comment: “It’s like some Muslim smoked a bunch of weed and watched Wonder Woman and The Matrix.”

Suleiman: (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m wondering, with a clip like that presented on YouTube, if you’re worried if that gets away from the point of the trilogy. That presented independently without any kind of context, people don’t actually know that it’s really your clip. There’s just a bunch of people who enjoy that clip for what it is. Is that troublesome for you as a filmmaker? On one hand, you’ve got an audience here. But they have taken it and turned it into something completely different, as this user Firestarter89 clearly has.

Suleiman: Well, I mean, it would be too long to now discuss the potence and impotence of the Internet and YouTube. And I don’t look at my own clips, by the way. I never watch what they say. I’m not really interested in this kind of image ghettoization and the very consumerist element of it on the Internet. So I actually protect myself from this pollution. However, yes, to take it out of context is really harmful. Because in the narrative of the film, what we see is his fantasy, his inner fantasy of his lover disappearing. So he wants her to come back as a victorious hero in an almost B-movie like or kitsch-like ambiance. When that episode is finished, he is cutting onions in order to cry. So we see that the result of it is this impotent character who is even unable to cry. So it is an extremity to that violent and that victorious heroism.

I have to tell you a story. A funny story actually. One time, a man stops me. A young man stops me. I was trying to film something on a small camera in Ramallah on the street. For nothing specific. I forgot. Maybe to take a note. I don’t even remember. And he doesn’t know who I am. He just stops me. He stops me and he says, “Are you a filmmaker?” I said, “Well, kind of.” And he said, “You know, you Palestinian filmmakers are all losers. You know, you don’t know how to make a real film. You don’t know how to do anything. You know, make us a film like this guy who made this ninja film.” And I told him, “What guy made the ninja film?” I asked him to describe the action and it turns out to be the segment of Divine Intervention. And I told him, “Well, I’m going to try.”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Suleiman: And he said, “That’s filmmaking for me!” So of course there’s going to be always this level of misinterpreting or taking things out of context. You cannot control that. Look at my biography. I mean, I’m sure that I’ve been presented with at least ten biographies of my life. None of them is true to my biography.

Correspondent: And yet here you are making movies that are rooted in autobiography. As such, there’s the classic saying that we accept fiction for its truth — particularly in this country — more than autobiography or memoir, in which you constantly question the facts.

Suleiman: But, you know, I’m not at all pointing fingers at anyone. But the fact is there’s always a tendency to bring down to earth again what you’re trying to bring to a potential reality. Rather than bring it back to the actual reality. So you’re trying to fight the media distortions. And they bring it back. Eventually you have a TV interview. You’re put in the news. So I don’t know how much we can — on how many fronts you can actually start or stop, deter — I mean, I can barely make my movies. So to start also campaigning against YouTube or distortions of the media, it’s very difficult for me. But I think that one could also say, rather than look at it from a defeatist point of view, if it gave anyone out there some pleasure and some dreamlike potential for a better world, then I think we are — if I feel that I’m doing the best I can, if I feel that I’m trying to dig out the little monster inside of one’s self. Not necessarily the monster only that you project on. You’re trying to evaluate. Re-evaluate your own acts. And trying to become a better person and call it your own moral equation. I think this far I can do. But I can’t go beyond that.

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