"Maradona’s legs", the 'cute' short film by Firas Khoury, is one of the winners of Fabrique Awards
With "Maradona’s legs", an enchanting short film starring two Palestinian kids and their passion for football, Firas Khoury won a well-deserved first prize at the Fabrique du Cinéma Awards last December. We reach Firas while he is visiting his native country, a village in Galilee: for five years the Palestinian director and screenwriter has lived in Tunisia, where he is working on his first feature film, entitled The Flag, not by chance for an author deeply attached to his community, "living in a state of occupation and siege".
Why The Flag? What is your first feature film about?
The title refers to the Palestinian political situation: we have our own flag, but we are not allowed to show it. But the film is also a love story and a coming-of-age story. It is an international co-production with Lebanon, France and Tunisia and everything is ready to shoot in Tunisia in April, Covid permitting, of course.
Maradona’s legs (distributed by Lights On) also shows how your work is closely linked to the Palestinian reality; through the story of two very young fans of the Brazilian football team at the 1990 World Cup, you tell us about what it means not to have your own national team and how important it is to stay by your team even when it loses.
Yes, there is clearly a political layer in Maradona’s legs, but my intent was above all to tell the story of a passion, particularly the passion of two children. There is a lot of me, the young fans of Brazil at the 1990 World Cup are me and my brother (I still am a fan): not having a national team, we had to support a foreign team. But beyond the political aspect, what I like is making films that focus on the individual, on his struggles and desires: the passion for Brazil can be seen as the passion for liberation, for revolution, for life. And I believe that the public and the juries of festivals from all over the world who continue to award it have understood the various levels of the film, but mainly they have loved the mise-en-scène, the casting, the final monologue of the protagonist. It is a cute story well told and not pretentious.
You are also the founder of a Palestinian filmmakers network, Falastinema.
Falastinema is a group of directors who aim to bring Palestinians some films coming from the Arab world - because, due to the political situation, they have little chance of seeing them. The project lasted four years, but since I moved to Tunisia it has stopped for the moment. We do not have a real film industry, the community of Palestinian directors is still very small, even if some names are known internationally, such as Elia Suleiman (The Time that Remains, It Must Be Heaven) and Hany Abu- Assad (Omar, The Mountain Between Us). There are not even real film schools, only recently one has opened in Bethlehem; I myself studied at Tel Aviv University.
What is the cinema that inspires your work?
Basically I love dramas or comedies with a classical structure, which is why I look with admiration to Giuseppe Tornatore and Lina Wertmuller, who are among my absolute favorite authors and who, incidentally, are Italians ... But I like to contaminate this classical setting with poetry and the depth of Soviet cinema à la Tarkovskij. In fact, among the projects I’m working on there is a Hollywood-style romantic comedy but with a depth, a concentration, a mood that come from Soviet cinema.
You don’t seem like a great lover of TV series ...
I like them and I follow them, but in them I find leisure, entertainment, while in films I look for something that can profoundly change my thoughts and emotions: let’s say that I have different expectations. And then I don’t think of series as something destined to remain forever: while cinema is a denser, more compact art, made to last over time.
What advice would you give to a boy or a girl studying cinema?
I don’t feel in a position to give advice, I’ve only shot shorts, maybe you should ask Tornatore [laughs]. However, my only suggestion is to consume art: not only cinema, but also literature, painting, music, because cinema unites all the arts. I don’t trust screenwriters who don’t read a lot of literature and I believe the majority don’t, as is evident from their work, just as cinematographers often don’t know painting. We must not underestimate the "ease" of making films - I take a camera and start shooting - because at a certain point it will come out whether your work has a solid artistic culture behind it or not.