Filming the Trio Jubran | Catherine Cornet
Filming the Trio Jubran
Catherine Cornet   
  Filming the Trio Jubran | Catherine Cornet The Mediterranean documentary festival took place on a cruise boat anchored in the port of Civitavecchia. To speak with Raed Andoni, author of the documentary “Improvisations, Samir and his brothers” we agreed to “go outside” for coffee and cigarettes…. Raed had only arrived on the previous day, but he already knew his way around as if he had always lived on board. His ease and speed along the corridors and various levels of the boat, coffee in hand, gave a perfect idea of his vitality, his typical energy to overcome all obstacles, but above all, of his contagious sense of humour.

While watching “Samir and his brother” I could not believe Raed managed to get all these intimate feelings within the family. Is he, in fact, the fourth brother of the family? All through the interview, Raed answered this question. His friendship with Samir and his family and the 10 months they spent together created a real “correspondence”??. He became so close with the Jubran clan that he managed to become a supporter of their courage without being a fan: his acute sense of criticism is confirmed by his attention to details and nuances, his asking a lot of questions and never getting close to answers. The film adds complexity and universality to a very small event: a third Jubran brother is joining the already acclaimed Jubran duo. They live in Ramallah, perform in Europe and America and live and doubt as artists do. Starting from this tiny event, the film raises bigger questions …


CC: Your shooting is extremely intimate. Did you know the Jubran family before?
RA: Samir is a close friend of mine since he moved to Ramallah. I made this film out of the feeling that there is something very humane here. It was not just about music, I was stunned by the Jubran family. This film had to be done, and I was the one who did it. I had music, conflict of identities for Samir being a Palestinian holding an Israeli passport. There was also a generation and culture conflict/gap . I like filming small details, I did not have a precise idea at first. The only thing I knew is that I did not want to make another political film.

Following its title, was the documentary also an improvisation?
Yes, I spent 10 months, camera in hand, with no precise initial plan or financial support. I got financial support from the Sundance Festival and the French-German Television “Arte”, but only for the postproduction, that is after they saw the filmed material.

The core of the story lays in the entering of Adnan, the younger brother of the Jubran family inside the already well-established Jubran duo, formed by Samir and Wissam. Was this at least your point of departure?
I support Samir as a friend but also as a musician. When he told me about the project of including Adnan in the group, I told him straight away: “Please, don’t perform the first rehearsal without me and my camera!”. I know Adnan suffered a lot. He prepared for one year before the rehearsal and the first scene when Adnan is crying was actually their first meeting as a group.

Your film is full of touching details. Adnan’s fingers while Samir is reproaching his lack of seriousness tell more than any other explanation. How did you manage to create such a strong intimacy with the camera?
The characters themselves are honest enough to express their emotions in front of others. After a while, they got used to my presence too. I think it is clear in my film that my camera and I had become part of the family.

At the beginning of the film, one really dislikes Samir, even if after a while, you learn to respect him, to admire his courage. What did Samir think of the film?
I actually argued a lot with Samir about his character. I told him I didn’t want to portray him as an icon, a successful musician with sunglasses…I didn’t want to turn him into a poster! A human being is real when he is in love, when he is low…This is reality for me. My main argument was: “If the audience likes your character, it will be better to look this way. I didn’t want to describe an angel”.

Well, at the end of the day, he does appear as a positive character, who has a very strong political stand. Do you actually share his militancy?
We come from different backgrounds. I’m a Palestinian born in a Palestinian village near Bethlehem. Samir comes from Nazareth. He is also Palestinian but he has an Israeli passport. He lives an inner conflict. He wants to prove he is Palestinian. I don’t need that, though I understand his identity conflict. I was born here, I spent all my shitty life here, I met a great woman here. For me, it’s simple. A Palestinian born in Nazareth happens to be a 1948 Palestinian. They study in Hebrew, they sing the Israeli anthem…

Do you dream, as Samir does, of a Palestinian flag? A Palestinian national anthem?
I don’t care about the flag or the national anthem. I don’t need this to feel Palestinian.

The character of Adnan is beautifully depicted. He is very cute actually…
Wissam is my favourite, though. He represents the feminine side of the trio. He is always very quiet, he has a shy confidence???. He actually feels safe because he is a good (stringed-instrument maker- lutist?, he knows what he wants: for instance a violin worth 25.000 euros. He never takes part in the conflict between the two other brothers.

The role of women is central. They‘re the family diplomats.
Yes, the women of the Jubran family, like all traditional Palestinian women –my mother is like that too- understand both sides. They put everyone together. Samir’s wife, for instance, protects the younger brother from her husband.
Filming the Trio Jubran | Catherine Cornet What about Katia, the young daughter of Samir? To me, she represented the Palestinian spirit of endurance…
When her father calls the Israeli officer to ask if he can go out of Ramallah and the officer refuses, she says to Samir: call again! And keeps repeating: call again until they say yes!
She verbalizes in baby words all the conflicts of the Middle-east. For me it was symbolic. We “have” to call the Israeli police. They say we cannot pass. So we have to call again and again. It is the same in politics: “we do the first Intifada, then the second Intifada, and then what? The question comes very quickly, and then? I believe a good film has to raise questions, not to give answers. That’s why I tried to speak about a general subject through a very normal story. All these characters, tell a lot about Palestine.

Another general subject that you very well describe is isolation. The closure of Ramallah, the days under curfew.
The Workshop of Samir’s father is in Nazareth, Samir lives in Ramallah and they plays in Paris. The location was a problem. That’s also why I didn’t film outside Nazareth. I wanted to film inside the Jubrans’ house. I am not interested in the Hebrew signs posted around town. To me, Nazareth is Abou Samir and the Palestinians living there. You do not feel so much movement between Ramallah and Nazareth. But you feel the complicity. Every time we need to go from one city to the other, we face a problem. There is always something new going on that complicates our life even further, which is, in other words, the Israeli occupation.

How was it then to shoot in Nazareth?
To go to Nazareth was a big problem. I am now allowed to go there because I have a Palestinian ID. I have been told that for security reasons I couldn’t enter the city. Actually the reason is that I had a big argument with one the officers, a colonel. For the movie, I really needed to go. So I asked an Israeli friend of mine, who is a lawyer. She volunteered to present the case for free at the Supreme court of Israel….There I was, small Raed Andoni, against the highest court of Israel! After two weeks I got the permit…And now, I can go…

So it was a very expensive scene…
Yes, but don’t worry…She is now filing another case to get the money back!

Did the family like the film? How did they react?
They adored it. The only shame is that the film was shown in Nazareth, in Haifa, and I was not able to be with the family at the screening. The first screening was in Ramallah.


How did the screening in Ramallah go?
The screenings in Ramallah, Beirut and Tunis were actually amazing. In Tunisia there were hundreds of persons present and they were crying. In Ramallah and Beirut people didn’t budge. They kept staring at the empty screen. Waiting for a follow-up….In Jordan, I had a very bad reaction. Someone told me that if I wanted to film musicians it would have been better to have them sing and not speak. A lot of people still have problems in accepting who Palestinians really are. I told him “you do not have problems with my characters, I think you have a problem with your eyes!”
Some people have put us into frames. They want to picture us as nice and polite creatures. But we’re just crazy human beings as for the rest of the world! We have the right to present our own image. In Europe they see us as terrorists, in the Middle-east they see us as freedom fighters! Enough is enough! That’s why I told him: “fix your eyes”!


Did you screen your film in Jerusalem too?
I do not want to show it there. My mother lives in Bethlehem, I have many friends and family who live 15 minutes from Jerusalem. Do you think I can screen my film, 15 minutes away from my mother without her being able to come? I’m not making it political, it’s just a very personal issue. The film toured all Arab cities in Israel…In any case, my mother got to see the film in Washington D.C anyway…

Catherine Cornet
(21/12/2006)