Omor Shakhsiya (Personal Affairs), interview with Maha Haj

Film still of Omor Shakhsiya (Personal Affairs) © RR

Directly inspired by her experiences as a Palestinian living in Israel, Maha Haj takes her first cinematic steps with Omor Shakhsiya (Personal Affairs), a feature film presented in Un Certain Regard and a contender for the Caméra d’Or. The film portrays the difficulties of family relationships in a controversial political climate.

What inspired you to begin work on this film?

Actually what inspired me was the location. Four years ago I went to northern Sweden in January to a cabin on a lake inside a forest. The lake was frozen and everything was white and deadly calm. I thought to myself, if my parents, who were married for over 50 years, could come to this beautiful place one day and stay there for a week, alone and away from the noise of their hometown Nazareth… What would they do? I went back home with that question and that specific notion and image, and started the process of writing my screenplay.

Please describe your working method and the atmosphere on set.  Anecdotes welcome.

I basically come to the set with lots of love to my work and to the cast and crew, which makes the job a lot easier and full of pleasure. I do many many rehearsals before the production begins and before each take during the shooting. I also try as much as possible to stick to the screenplay in terms of dialogues and the general ambiance of the film I have in mind. If I had to describe the making of this film in two words, I’d say it is a labour of love.

Please share a few words about your actors.

I was blessed with a wonderful cast whom I admire, respect and love enormously. Working with each and everyone of them was a real pleasure as they brought life to the characters. Ever since the writing of the first draft, i already knew who i wanted to work with and who was suitable for each role.

What are your views on the state of the film industry in your country?

Palestinian cinema is definitely on the map. Many great filmmakers come from Palestine: Elia Suleiman, Hany Abu Asad, Tawfik Abu Wael, only to name a few. What is also interesting about Palestinian cinema is its diversity. Films that come from Palestine are rich and colourful by topics and styles. On the other hand, being a Palestinian filmmaker isn't something that one can take for granted, it is not an easy thing because of the political condition in Palestine and Israel.

What sources of artistic inspiration have you drawn from in your work?

I must begin by saying Reading. I’m a bookworm! I read mainly fiction (novels and short stories) and poetry. I also draw my inspiration from paintings and sculptures, and of course music (classical mainly but also jazz and blues).

Can you tell us about your next project?

My next project will be a period film:  a love story in the city of Haifa before 1948.