The Children of Ibdaa:
To Create Something Out of Nothing
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Philo Interview

Philo TV ( donated post-production services for The Children of Ibdaa: To Create Something Out of Nothing. The following interview was conducted for Philo TV and appears on the Philo TV website.

PT: Why was it important to make the children the voice of your film?

SP: A main focus of the film is to be an educational tool for a more comprehensive understanding of the greater political issue. It offers representation of an underrepresented voice—the peaceful population of refugees.

The refugee issue is a major component of the Arab/Israeli conflict, though there is not much information in the American media about the lives of the refugees. People just know that the Arabs and Israelis are fighting and don't necessarily know why, or know that there are many dimensions to the conflict.

The children are the 3rd generation of refugees. They have grown up there and know no other life. These children are precocious in that they are expressing their struggle in a creative and non-violent way. It is important that they are heard because they are shaping the evolution of the conflict.

PT: How did you shoot Ibdaa?

SP: Most of the film is shot on my own DV camera. Because it is small and unobtrusive, I was able to shoot in intimate environments, like a family's home, and capture many authentic moments. I was alone so I needed to be self-sufficient; DV allowed for that.

I also shot black and white Super 8. When I was editing, it became clear that this footage would represent memory, history, or aspects of oppression. Many of the historic stills showing refugee conditions in the early 50s came from the United Nations film archive in Gaza that generously lent them. The photos showing agrarian Palestinian life before the creation of Israel in 1948 came from a book called 'Before Their Diaspora.’

PT: What’s your favorite scene in the film?

SP: One that stands out is when the kids visit their ancestral homes, and actualize their dream of returning to the villages in which their grandparents lived until the creation of Israel. The Palestinian determination to return to their homeland is known as The Right of Return. These kids were setting foot on soil they thought they might never see. It was exciting to be part of that pivotal time for them.

PT: How would you describe your filmic philosophy behind this piece?

SP: In the documentary film world there is a rhetorical debate about 'Voice' and 'Representation.' I whimsically call the style of this film 'documentary verité. To me, this pays homage to the established phrase 'cinema verité in which the filmmaker tries to be as unobtrusive as possible to the natural course of action. Documentaries are thought of to be 'real' or of the real world. By saying 'documentary verité, I am trying to call attention to the inevitable construction of the medium, even if I endeavored not to intrude in a scene, the camera presence and placement has an effect, and editing is all about construction. It also overstates that I am trying not to construct too much. I am playing with these terms.

For example, when the kids visit their ancestral villages, I did not want to influence their personal moments for the sake of my film. I just followed them around and watched them take in the surroundings.

PT: What have you learned about filmmaking from your work on Ibdaa?

SP: Now that's a big one. I learned about making a documentary from the ground up. I learned to develop a context out of a mass of images and verbal information. And, thanks to the generosity of Philo, I learned to be an editor. I remember my initial conversation with Evan [Philo General Manager] – I had no idea what the Philo world and equipment was about! I was used to cutting film, Philo seemed an endless mass of computers and sophisticated technology. Thanks to the Avid class and endless assistance from the Philo staff, I am now proudly fluid with the technology and understand editing at a much deeper level. I feel that I came to Philo as a film student, and I left as a filmmaker.

PT: You’ve lived in the Bay Area for about ten years now – how would you describe the state of independent film here? Will your film screen in San Francisco?

SP: I’m thrilled to say that Ibdaa will screen at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival this April. The film has played in several of the Bay Area Festivals including Mill Valley International, Film Arts Foundation Festival for Independent Cinema, Cinemayaat (Arab Film Festival) and the Tiburon International where it won a Humanitarian Award. The Bay Area fosters true spirit of independent cinema. I was attracted to San Francisco because there are so many artists doing documentary and experimental work. ‘Independent film’ has become a marketing term in the industry, but in San Francisco you’re more likely to find films that actually meet my definition of independent – meaning, projects that are motivated by passion for a topic or an experimental concept. Projects that are seen through largely by one person from start to finish, without pandering to anyone else’s politics. Unfortunately this also means financial backing is limited, but there are also many grant foundations based here.

PT: When in your life did you become interested in becoming a filmmaker, and why?

SP: My foray into filmmaking has been a natural evolution from interests I've had all my life - writing, photography, and even acting. I've kept journals from the time I was very young, and enjoy the writing process. I feel writing is organizing one's thoughts. My mother is an artist (a painter and photographer) and she gave me a camera when I was a teenager. It was one of the best gifts I've ever received and I use the same camera today.

Documentary filmmaking is a perfect creative space for me because it combines my interests in photography, cultures, travel, people, and politics. I like using film as a far-reaching educational tool. I feel fortunate to have had numerous experiences in other cultures, and film allows me to share the experience. Not in a way which grandstands myself, but as a contribution toward our collective dialogue as members of the same humanity.

PT: In terms of filmmaking, who is your biggest influence?

SP: San Francisco experimental filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt has been an influence, but as a documentarian I’d say that every time I watch a documentary that transports me to another reality I am inspired.

PT: What future projects do you have in mind?

SP: I want to explore human similarities despite cultural differences. It’s my aspiration to participate in the international dialogue that influences all of our lives. It will be a proud day when I can lead a discussion group based on issues raised in my films.

Smith Patrick received her MFA in cinema from San Francisco State University in December 2002.

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