- Associated Press - Thursday, September 2, 2010

VENICE, Italy | The latest movie by Julian Schnabel couldn’t have been more timely.

Miral” chronicles decades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the rarely seen perspective of Palestinian women. The film, dedicated by the director to everyone on both sides who wants peace, had its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, just as Israeli and Palestinian leaders sat down in Washington for the first direct negotiations in years.

“I am not a politician or a statesman, but I don’t see how an artist can do any worse than politicians have done so far,” said Mr. Schnabel. His previous movies include “Basquiat” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

Film producer Tarak Ben Ammar said he wishes Israeli and Palestinian leaders could have seen the movie before their talks, which U.S officials hope will lead to agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state.

“I wish they would have seen the movie yesterday, to have been touched, because through the heart, the mind opens,” he told journalists. “We are not naive enough to believe that this movie will change the world. But it will change the hearts of people who know nothing about Palestine.”

The movie chronicles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1948 to 1994 - stopping a year after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, signed the Oslo Accords providing a plan for Palestinian self-rule.

It is based on a novel by Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal, a composite of her life and the events that shaped it that is centered on a school for Palestinian orphans of the conflict - herself among them.

Miss Jebreal said the book was an homage to her father and her teachers. “It is the story of a big land and a little girl who grows up and survives such a devastating conflict because she has somebody who helped her,” she said. “I think there are many youths seeking and wanting this help.”

The story starts in 1948, when a Palestinian woman, Hind Husseini, finds 55 children left orphaned in the Deir Yassin massacre, in which more than 250 Palestinian villagers were killed. She takes the children to her home, feeds them and gives them a place to sleep. Soon more come - until she has established an orphanage and school in her family’s home.

Thirty years later, the father of girl named Miral turns her over to Miss Husseini after her mother’s suicide. She is sheltered in the school until the first intifada, when she and the other girls are sent to teach children in the refugee camps. There, Miral, portrayed by Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, is confronted by the poverty of the Palestinian people, and her political self is born.

Mr. Schnabel said the movie is about highlighting common values.

“The fact is that the values that were instilled in me by my mother were the same as those instilled in her by Hind Husseini,” he said. “One of the reasons I made this film is it was so obvious to me that there were so many more similarities between these people than differences. I felt it was my responsibility to confront this issue, because maybe I spent most of my life receding from going to Israel, receding from my life as a Jewish person.”

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