Salam, a charming 30-year-old Palestinian living in Jerusalem, works as an intern on a popular Palestinian soap opera, “Tel Aviv on Fire,” which is produced in Ramallah. Every day Salam must pass through an arduous Israeli checkpoint to reach the television studios. He meets the commander of the check-point, Assi, whose wife is a huge fan of the show. In order to impress her, Assi gets involved in the writing of the show. Salam soon realizes that Assi’s ideas could get him a promotion as a screenwriter. Salam’s creative career catches fire, until Assi and the soap’s financial backers disagree on how the soap opera should end. Squeezed between an Army Officer and the Arab backers, Salam can only solve his problems with a final master stroke.
From the directors statement:
As a Palestinian writer- director who tells stories about daily reality in my homeland, I carry with me a certain ethical and political responsibility. I became aware of this responsibility through sharing my previous films with local and international audiences. I saw how easily film can bring out the Palestinian-Israeli clash of narratives. There were those who thought my films were “too Palestinian”, “insufficiently Israeli” or the total opposite. We make films to tell stories and communicate a perspective on the world as we know it, but the interpretation of our work is ultimately beyond our control. With Tel Aviv on Fire, I decided to write a story dealing directly with the subject of conflicting perspectives. (Venice Film Festival)
Tel Aviv on Fire is a political comedy about the women, the creators, producers and actors of a popular Arabic Soap opera. Every person will understand the comic energy of the story, it stems from the arrogance of the actors, the seduction of fame and the burning aspiration of those who are not part of it all to squeeze their way in. A similar background inspired Renoir ("French Can-Can"), Fellini ("The White Sheik"), Lubitsch ("To be or not to be") and their works inspired me to make this film.
I situated the production studio of the Soap in Ramallah. The Soap that is being produced centers around a romantic Affair between an Arab woman Spy and an Israeli officer in Tel Aviv. The film tells the story of Salam, an aspiring writer who struggles to find his voice and inspiration in a politically charged reality. His creative career is on the rise until he finds himself in the middle of a dispute between the Israeli officer who co-writes with him and the investors about how the story of the soap should end.
The outcome is a comic collision of narratives and backstage politics that reflect the day to day situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that encompasses the story. The use of comedy is for me fundamental to the story and gives me a unique point of view on the conflict. Similar to my previous film, the tone is comic – not to make light of a situation that is more dire than ever before, but rather to use the insights that comic exaggeration can bring. As Charlie Chaplin put it, “to truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it”.
When I made my first full length feature "A man without a Cell phone" I gradually realized the power and effect of comedy in dealing with complex political and social issues. In "Tel Aviv on Fire" I wanted to look further into this approach and tell a more mature and complicated story.
In its essence "Tel Aviv on Fire" is the story of an indecisive young man that discovers himself as an artist. It’s also the unusual pact/alliance between Salam, a smooth-tongued Palestinian and Assi, a high ranked officer in the IDF. This relationship that in other circumstances could have developed into a creative partnership is interrupted when Assi can't cope with the fact that Salam isn’t dependent on him any more. But the story shows sympathy also to Assi who dedicated his life to the army but finds out that he would rather be free in order to create.
As a filmmaker who grew up in this reality I found myself facing and questioning issues and situations Salam is questioning. Every time I began to tackle a new idea, even an idea I wanted to keep simple and un political I found myself trapped in the Israeli narratives and Palestinian narratives, facing criticism from people who wanted the work to be more Palestinian or more Israeli. In the film Salam develops: At first he wants to be Unpolitical, and then he begins to understand his voice and its strengths – and he uses these strengths in a political manner. This is my journey.
Tel Aviv on Fire premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival where Kais Nashif won the Best Actor Award. At the Haifa film festival the film received the Best Film Award and has since been screened in a long line of film festivals among others The Toronto Intl. Film Festival and the Thessaloniki Intl. Film Festival.
Co-Produced by Lama Films (Israel), Samsa Films (Luxembourg), Artemis Productions (Belgium) Ts Productions (France).
Supported by the Israel Film Fund, Eurimages, Film Fund Luxembourg.
With: Kais Nashif, Uaniv Biton, Lubna Azabal, Salim Daw, Maisa Abed Elhadi