EXCLUSIVE: German broadcasting network ARD has been accused of censorship following its decision to pull a scheduled broadcast of Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s 2017 feature Wajib due to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The film’s German co-producer Titus Kreyenberg told Deadline that Wajib had been due to air this Sunday (November 19), with the programming slot set for months and already announced in TV listings.
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“It’s been taken off the schedule. Internally, we were told that it was decided that this was not the time to show a Palestinian film,” said Kreyenberg who works under the banner of Berlin and Cologne-based Unafilm with recent credits including Octopus Skin and A Woman.
Deadline has contacted ARD – a joint network involving 10 German regional public broadcasters – as well as Hamburg-based member NDR, which backed the production. The networks have yet to respond.
Jacir’s drama Wajib is a gentle comedy-drama capturing the reality of Palestinians living within Israeli borders.
Set in the city of Nazareth, it stars Mohammad Bakri, one of Palestine’s best known actors, as a father who is reunited with his estranged son (played by real-life son Saleh Bakri), when he returns from his adopted home of Italy for his sister’s wedding.
Together the father and son embark on the ritual of hand delivering invitations to friends and family, squabbling and then coming together along the way.
The decision to pull the film comes close to six weeks after the deadly Hamas terror attacks on Southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people and resulted in more than 240 people being taken hostage and taken to the Gaza Strip.
Since then, Israel’s retaliatory military campaign on Gaza, aimed at wiping out Hamas and getting the hostages back, has killed more than 11,500 people, according to figures from the Hamas-run health authority, and displaced 70% of the 2.3 million population. The reverberations of the conflict are being felt worldwide.
Kreyenberg said concerns had also been cited over the fact Mohammad Bakri is also the director of the 20-year-old documentary Jenin, Jenin.
The controversial work recounts the events of the Israeli army’s incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin in April 2022, following a series of suicide attacks in Israel, from a solely Palestinian perspective.
“I’ve written to the commissioning director pointing out that whatever your views are on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at a certain point the fighting will stop, and both peoples will have to sit down and have a dialogue,” said Kreyenberg. “This film is about dialogue, a dialogue between a father and son. Cinema can help dialogue.”
Wajib was to have aired in a late night 11.50pm to 1.23am CET slot on ARD’s flagship Das Erste channel, to then be made available in Germany for a limited period on its catch-up service. Deadline has reviewed the online schedule and it has been removed.
Kreyenberg said the broadcast had been programmed months ago as part of a double bill on the theme of fathers and sons alongside Danish director Anders Østergaard’s hybrid work Winter Journey.
The broadcast of the Arizona-set docudrama – which stars late Swiss actor Bruno Ganz as a retired Jewish furniture sales agent telling his son the tale of his flight from Nazi Germany – went ahead as planned on November 12.
“It is puzzling that ARD went on with the broadcast of Winter Journey and not Wajib, for me that’s a form of censorship,” said Kreyenberg.
Wajib world premiered in Competition at the Locarno Film Festival in 2017, where it won four prizes including the Special Prize, and then clinched another 36 international awards, including Best Film in Mar Del Plata, Dubai, Amiens, DC Film Festival, Kerala and the jury mention at the London BFI Festival.
Jacir told Deadline she was “utterly appalled” by ARD’s decision to pull the film.
“A film about a father and son delivering wedding invitations. At this dark moment in history, it is shameful that ARD would choose to suppress artists voices instead of offering a space where we can share our stories, our culture and our dreams,” she said.
“It is extremely disturbing that in 2023, Germany is involved in the censorship and silencing of independent voices. It is the opposite of everything a free world should be.”
Wajib was lead produced by Ossama Bawardi at Philistine Films, a joint company with Jacir.
Coproducers were Jacques Bidou and Marianne Dumoulin at Paris-based JBA Productions; Kreyenberg, under the banner of his second Hamburg-based company Klinkerfilm; Katrin Pors at Denmark’s Snowglobe, Ruben Thorkildsen at Norway’s Ape&Bjørn and Georges Schoucair at Beirut-based Schortcut Films as well as Sawsan Asfari, Cristina Gallego and Maya Sanbar.
Linus Günther, who now runs Klinkerfilm, was a junior producer and Raja Dubayah was an associate producer.
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