Sunday, April 15, 2007

THE LAST DAYS OF YASSER ARAFAT

In a poignant image, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is dressed in his pajamas, an overcoat thrown around his emaciated shoulders, and his eyes sunken beneath a sheepskin hat sliding down his skeletal head. In the middle of hordes of worshippers the weakened warrior is whisked from a Mercedes limo onto a waiting helicopter, rotating blades churning up dusty memories of past glories and clouds of an unknown future. We know, and perhaps he did as well: this is the last time he will see his beloved home country to which he was both savior and scourge. Arafat has fallen mysteriously ill and submits to hospitalization in Paris, where he will suddenly die––cause forever undisclosed.

Timing is everything in life, and Palestinian-Australian documentary filmmaker Sherine Salama knew the importance of following her prescient dream in August 2003, the morning she awakened convinced that Arafat was going to die, and soon. Although by nature she is “not a very political person–I’m usually much more interested in the struggle of ordinary people than in leaders,” Salama felt “a kind of duty to make a film about him before he died.” A few weeks later Ehud Olmert, then the deputy Prime Minister, threatened to assassinate or expel Arafat, and she knew she had to act swiftly.

In “Last Days” Salama accomplishes the daunting task of humanizing the typically demonized president. Much of the documentary’s action revolves around her attempt to break through the inner sanctum of aids, bodyguards, and press secretaries surrounding Arafat's compound at Ramallah. It takes more than a year, but she finally ingratiates herself and her interview is granted. When the documentarian meets the despot their conversation is amiable and Arafat engaged. She’s waited so long and she has so many questions, but after a few minutes the interview prematurely concludes. Within a month, after Arafat’s death, Salama realizes that hers is the ultimate interview. By following her instincts she provided the world a final glimpse into one of the most controversial leaders of the 20th century. As Bashir Anastas writes in the catalogue film note, the film “is a must-see for anyone even mildly interested in the ongoing saga of the Middle East.”

THE LAST DAYS OF YASSER ARAFAT
Australia/Palestine, 2006, 77 min.
Dir./Prod./Camera Sherine Salama

Wed., May 2 1:15 Kabuki
Sun., May 6 6:15 Kabuki

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