Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Real Truth... On Dana and Lara


If you have been anywhere near a computer or a smart phone in the past few weeks, you probably already know about "The REAL Truth".

My own personal truth is, as an Arab (and more specifically an Arab woman) I have always felt cheated by Arab leadership. Our people are never heard and those who gain enough exposure use archaic (pathetic) and boring approaches to voice their causes (because it's usually their own causes although wrapped in a nice "for the people" package). 

We have become accustomed to the long - oh so terrifyingly long - speeches packed with overused and abused slogans and washed down with a cup of your finest propaganda (which, and this may come to you as a surprise, dear politicians, does not age well - it's propaganda, not wine).

Well, the disappointment ends here, folks:

All Hail The Women with brain, beauty and immaculate English accents!
Did you just see that? 
Did you just hear that?

These women rock!

Not because of their English proficiency which incidentally is an added value when talking to non-Arabs (no, we're not all bearded terrorists who speak like Bond villains and therefore must be evil). 

Unlike the usual  "no, that is not true, Israel is evil, look, they are killing our children" speech that we keep hearing and although true but never built on clear, intelligent argumentation; this video actually answers specific propaganda with wit and facts. Facts. Facts. Not just slogans and arab nationalism cheers. We are not robots who have been repeating the same thing decade after decade. We are human beings who have been fighting for our right to exist decade after decade. 

And they are women. Beautiful, intelligent, educated and well-read young women. Yes, it may sound like good PR to have a gorgeous face associated with the Palestinian cause, but mostly, to me, it is more than that. It shatters the stereotype that Arab women are submissive victims at the hands of their abusive men, societies and religions. We all know, far too well, that domestic and women abuse remain continuous problems worldwide (unfortunately). So for the West to patronize us about it, over and over again, depicting our Arab women as weak, uneducated and unable to fight for their own rights is simply laughable. Look at yourselves first. And look at our women. In the above video. Not all Arab women are that well-spoken and educated? True. Neither are all Western women. Or men for that matter.

Ok, clearly, I am a fan. 

And I could not resist contacting Dana Dajani and Lara Sawalha to find out more "The REAL Truth" and the brilliant people behind it.

So who are Dana and Lara?

Dana Dajani: My name is Dana Dajani, my father is Palestinian from Jerusalem and my mother’s parents are Syrian/Gazan. Born in Jordan, raised between the US and the Middle East, I studied theatre in the United States and received my bachelor’s of fine arts in Chicago. I moved to Dubai two and a half years ago to help promote the performing arts in the Middle East.

Lara Sawalha: My name is Lara Sawalha and I'm a professional actress by trade, trained at Italian Conti Academy of Performing Arts in London. My mother is British, but she likes to say she's as Arab as they come, even with her blonde hair and blue eyes, and my father is Jordanian. I am fortunate to have them both be in the arts.

Photo courtesy of Dana Dajani

How did you get into films? Was it your very first experience with that medium? 

LS: My mother is a writer and my father is an actor/director/writer, which is where I found my passion for all things dramatic. My first proper stage appearance was with my father performing a politically satirical play, which is his forte, when I was 17 and the road was paved from there. I've been working in theatre and film for a while, but this specific genre (the YouTube clip) is a first for me and hopefully not my last ;)

DD: My passion is theater but I started working on films in Chicago and have probably acted in over 30 short films. This film was my first time working on a white screen interacting with animation!

How did the two of you meet and have you collaborated on common projects in the past? 

DD: Lara and I met on set at Kharabeesh studios in Amman in April 2012. We had never known about each other, but we ended up working together on another project for Bath Bayakha soon after, and have plans to collaborate on more work soon!

Photo courtesy of Dana Dajani

Why did you feel the need to answer Danny Ayalon's ad? Israeli and Zionist Propaganda isn't a new phenomenon, so why now? What was it with Ayalon's ad that made you tick? 

DD: I saw the video when it first came out two years ago and thought, how can there be such straight-up propaganda disseminated in our day and age, as if it was regular creative content for consumption? But honestly, all it takes is a good script and a production team and you can make anything happen. It angered me but I knew that personally I didn’t have the resources to properly respond. Lara and I were lucky to be presented with a good, punchy script, and a willing team to make it happen, so the question became why not? If not now, when, and who?

LS: I hadn’t seen the video until I got approached with the script, and when I saw it she I compelled to answer. We were given a chance to present an alternative view and we stepped up to the challenge.

What was the goal behind this casting? I'm loving the fact that Ayalon is massively arrogant and pompous and instead of having someone of his "caliber" speak to him, you opted for the totally opposite and in turn managed to ridicule him even more. 

DD and LS: Often times the Palestinian resistance is mostly comprised of young men, and overall this whole conflict is plagued by men- “old men dreaming wars for young men to die in”. We added a feminine element, we spoke for the youth. And at the end of the day, it’s all about public appeal: here were two females talking, more or less, like men, a bit cheeky and totally confident. It worked.

Where was the video produced and why? 

DD: The script was written in Ramallah, Visualizing Palestine is an international company, and Kharabeesh is in Amman, Standub.com is based in Dubai. I was living in Dubai, Lara was living in Amman. So we all gathered in Amman to make the video over two days. We shot on a white screen in one of Kharabeesh’s studios, using a simple Mark D7 (I think). We had lapel mics, and we macygvered a sweet-ass teleprompter out of an ipad, a reflective piece of glass and a podium.

That sounds so cool! How long did the production take and what tools did you use? Can you tell me more about the technical crew behind the film and how they worked? 

DD: Lara and I performed pro bono, it was a passion project for everyone. I’m pretty sure the animators worked pro bono too, which is why it took a year and a half to edit. As for Kharabeesh post production tools and team.

Jamil at standub.com, who directed the piece insisted "My aim is to highlight the fact that the writing and research was done by VP and Standub and the execution by kharabeesh. It was a group effort.

The 'nuances' and comedy was thought of and directed by the people from these 3 companies. The cost is that of research, scripting, actors, filming in a studio with green screen, editing, and then seperately days and days of animation and fact checking.

The point is, although this was a collaboration, modern day technology means that all you people need is a camera with some lighting and a laptop to make it happen. The important part is a) making it factually correct and b) getting the 'tone' right with people who understand humour. And we were lucky to have that behind and in front of the camera in this case.

The elements that went into producing this video were thought through and intentional. We would like to encourage others to collaborate and answer fiction with fact".

Photo courtesy of Dana Dajani

Now the content is brilliant! Who was behind the research and the script? It is so well written, not crowded with information and yet informative enough to discredit Ayalon and any previously heard lie about Palestine or Israel. 

I believe the writer would like to remain anonymous. Here’s something he wrote:

"Let them not know who's behind it, which is what I would prefer, hence why I did not take credit. People fear what they don't know. I want the Israeli government to fear that there is a growing movement of young Palestinians ready to respond to their rubbish propaganda. In a recent report issued by an Israeli think tank, The Reut Institute, they concluded that the BDS movement was the greatest threat to the existence of Israel because it was not one body they could target. Rather, it was a loose coalition of individuals and organizations united by ideology with no commander-in-chief.

Ayalan's argument was that because a Palestinian nation did not exist, Israel did nothing illegal. That's like saying nothing illegal was done to native american's because they didn't have an official 20th century style "nation state". What we were essentially saying was that we didn't invent our identity homie - Palestinians, the identity of the people who lived on this land, always existed. Our self-determination - and Israel's denial of our self-determination - is not contingent on any past form of "nation" status. To quote Shakespeare "What is the city but the people?

Except we chose to say this in a different way. No one has ever responded to official Israeli government propaganda like this. We just upped the ante".

I love the fact that for once, Arabs (and women at that, the stereotyped gender of weakness and submission) with immaculate English address the Western world. We can agree that PR-wise, the Arab world hasn't done very well. This video is a fantastic respond to all of that. At one point, you make fun of Ayalon's English accent which to me is so funny because Israelis love to emphasize their "Western" side when talking to the West and of course, directly or indirectly make fun of Arab politicians, leaders and general people for being or sounding too "Arab", as if being Arab is a characteristic rather than an identity. And a ridiculous characteristic at that, a characteristic that they feel are entitled to mock because it inferior and a reflection of terrorism (if we are not all white, English speaking folks, then we must be terrorists). How and why did you decide to do the same by mimicking the Israeli accent and what were your goals? 

DD: Honestly, it wasn’t a planned malicious attack. I was getting carried away in the moment of talking. What we do for a living a living is PLAY, so we tried bringing the element of play to more serious content. I’ve honestly been getting a lot of flack from Israeli’s calling me racist. My response is this: check out my comedy on my youtube channel. I make fun of many accents. Watch any good stand up comedian, see how long they go before putting on a character accent. It was all in good fun. And besides, If you cant laugh at yourself, no one will take you seriously.

Photo courtesy of Dana Dajani

The video went viral in a matter of hours, and with good reason. I am also confident the "debate" online must be heating up. What was the response from the Western world. I guess the Arab and Israeli responses are pretty straight forward but I'm wondering how other parties are responding and viewing this? 

LS: Arabs love it, they send us lots of praise, “we’re proud of you, bterfa3o il ras”, for a while we were getting a lot of support mail. Some Israeli’s have reached out to tell us that we “cannot change the course of history”. They’ve also dedicated blog posts to bitching about this video and the comments are pretty hateful. There was a British Pakistani ex-Muslim pro Zionist who blasted me on twitter, and now she follows me.

DD: One blogger actually investigated us and went so far as to call me a “whore” because I am a model and “Hamas would disapprove of my photographs”. For a few days it was pretty stressful because all of my social media sites were being trolled by Israelis posting really hateful and disgusting things (“you’re an arab, this is what I think of you.” then posting a link of a Syrian girl being decapitated). I’ve also gotten responses from Americans, Spaniards, and people from the Netherlands, thanking us for making this video and opening their eyes.

If someone decides to poke at your video and its content, do you plan to retaliate? 

DD and LS: So there have been blog posts and a debunking video. Also someone has asked to do a response video for another film. I don’t know if the whole team will be involved. But we definitely want to keep up the energy now that this is out.

Your video has done tremendous good in spreading information that people tend to forget or don't even know. Do you plan on making more of these videos to educate the West about our issues? 

DD and LS: We would love to do another one, even in response to the rest of his videos. Because this is fresh, it’s the most commotion that’s happened about Palestine in a while. Usually it’s the daily article on something or other being destroyed. So we’d like to keep generating creative content about the causes dearest to our hearts.

Photo courtesy of Dana Dajani

Any final words to Ayalon? 

DD and LS: We’ll be back.

I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.  ~George McGovern

One determined person can make a significant difference; a small group of determined people can change the course of history. ~ Sonia Johnson

As you're about to click away from this site, don't forget, sharing is caring, so keep the momentum going and help spreading "The REAL Truth" all around you.

And stay tuned for more by Dana Dajani as she prepares to release her upcoming video:
Love Letters From Palestine
A Poem Filmed in Bethlehem   


Find this blog on Facebook

No comments: