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Oscar-Nominated 'Omar' Opens Friday In San Diego

Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), an Israeli intelligence operative, makes a deal to free Omar from a long prison sentence in exchange for becoming a double agent in a scene from Hany Abu-Assad’s new Academy Award® nominated thriller, “Omar,” an Adopt Films release.
Adopt Films
Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), an Israeli intelligence operative, makes a deal to free Omar from a long prison sentence in exchange for becoming a double agent in a scene from Hany Abu-Assad’s new Academy Award® nominated thriller, “Omar,” an Adopt Films release.

Palestinian Actor Talks About Playing An Israeli Agent

Oscar-Nominated 'Omar' Opens Friday In San Diego
GUEST: Waleed Zuaiter, actor, 'Omar'

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Beth Accomando recently spoke spoke with one of the stars of the film, he talked about what is like to make the film in the occupied territories and about being a Palestinian actor playing in this really agent, gears that interview. The Oscar-nominated form for an film the bar opens in San Diego this Friday and the film is set in the occupied territories it follows the story of a Palestinian maker that gets caught up in the world counterespionage. Earlier this week Beth Accomando spoke with Waleed Zuaiter, here is that interview. [ [ AUDIO FILE PLAYING ] ] BETH ACCOMANDO: First of all, tell me a little bit about the character that you plan Omar. WALEED ZUAITER: I play in an Israeli official, he we don't specify exactly what organization he is with, but it's the Israeli security official, he basically is the main antagonist of the film and use the force coming between Omar and not yet, he is basically the guy who is interpreting interrogating Omar. See to what attracted you to the film and roll? WALEED ZUAITER: And he is a dear friend of mine that I shortly met after Paradise Now, he sent me the script and wanted me to look at the role and I love the role, but even more than the role singularly, I love the postscript to the story and I was so pass captivated by the two centers the script, and so what I loved about the role is that any rights of this style where he leaves a lot for your imagination, really read there's a lot of description there with that of the writers giving hints and ideas for the character, and in this script and the left a lot of that imagination to the actor and I thought about that being a strong role in a strong character, and also the complexity of it, and just the various different colors in somebody like this, and to be honest with you on I am Palestinian and I was in a sense as an actor challenged and honored by playing playing in his early, but I feel like every role for trade you need to step into somebody else's shoes and me being Palestinian stepping into an Israeli security officers shoes was very enlightening and something I think you can bring a lot of humanity to the character. BETH ACCOMANDO: And just recently I was at the San Diego Jewish film Festival and what I noticed is, their willingness to kind of present more diverse points of view in regards to issues in the Middle East has really expanded in the last few years, I am just wondering if you see that happening more broadly and if you think that films like Paradise now were at the forefront of moving people's expectations that are there going to see things that are not necessarily one-sided in a complex way. Presented in a complex way. WALEED ZUAITER: We're seeing more stories being told in a difference this perspective, we're seeing the conflict in the news all the time but is more engaging we can take someone on an emotional journey. What I like about Hany's work, he is fearless in his directing, and you need to be fearless and subject? This, you need to not let taboo stop you were just the general public opinion of a topic, with Paradise now in the kind of did a lot of that he did not let these get in the way and did not take a lot of risks, and with that I feel he has been able to engage more emotionally as a storyteller and when you come from the psychological point of view, and also from a love story angle, which I think engages the audience emotionally, you take them on this roller coaster ride where there is a psychological type of paranoia elements that this driving the political suspense of the film, I feel like we're having more stories being told from the Middle East from the Palestinian perspective which is very encouraging it is also encouraging to hear from the perspective of the Israeli side but also I think that you can look looked something like this in attempting to make it balance, because you're only obligation as an artist is to tell the truth, and whatever that is, and I really express back that about handing. Hany BETH ACCOMANDO: And part of the truth and he gets to is it's not black and white antics are kind of messy. WALEED ZUAITER: Yes, that's how life is, every character to letter how good or bad they are, they haven't many different colors and levels of personality, and people in different circumstances and extreme situations we have to different ways, and so when it comes to Palestinians living under occupation, Hany is said this in interviews I've been involved with them, people have asked, there is clearly different perspectives on this, and Omar is not necessarily a balanced viewpoint, and really the responses in a state of occupation there's the occupier and the occupied, it's hard to have talents that it's just a contradiction in terms. BETH ACCOMANDO: What kind of an audience reaction have you got an has there been a difference in the way that European audiences have reacted? Like a film set Festival versus what you're seeing here the United States? WALEED ZUAITER: Most positive thing is in reactions have been very positive and people are looking at this as a universal timeless story, and that is what attracted me to the project when I first read it, it has a very Shakespearean classical quality to it and the story is very simple, it is a stylistic choice of Hany's, we were rewarded the best feature at the national film Festival, Jim Sheridan who lie idolize and love his films, he said when he was giving us the award that the film was so simple that it makes it very all of powerful, and there is a certain spirituality also, and I think most audiences are taking that from it, it's a story where you are able to kind of live with the character again and said their minds, and Hany's use of close-ups and go into wider shots, he tells a beautiful stories cinematically, most audiences are reacting to that, and at the end of the film, the art that spending a lot of time contemplating and thinking and asking question and any good piece of art or filmmaking greases good questions, and people have said to me that they've had to go home and process everything that they have experienced with the film, and not being able to proceed with whatever they had planned back because there's just so much to process BETH ACCOMANDO: You think that the film presents a view of the occupation that American audiences may be not familiar with? Simple things like seeing him scale the wall each day. WALEED ZUAITER: That is another choice that and he made, we talked a lot about disparity and are people going to know about the separation, are they going to know what side that Omar Nadia is on,--- it has raised good questions, why did she go to the genre. The wall? The reality is that the separation wall separates I think somewhere the neighbor of 700 Palestinian villages most of the separation walls within the last bank, is actually separating families from themselves and neighbors from their neighbors, and in some cases, it is prevented prevented women from getting to the hospital in time to deliver babies or people getting to their ball their jobs, what is taking normally a few minutes takes 4 to 5 hours with check point that you go through, what I learned when I was there, people actually make a job off of helping people scare the wall, and a tight rope and they do it, and so it is more common than I thought, and you know it is the wall playing a major character in the film, I think we're giving it this artistic value by not putting a title card on it and saying the West Bank or the separation wall, or say where is then, so it is the other thing stylistically than two, it's the external barrier between Omar and not he asked, in every classical story there is an internal conflict like in Romeo and Juliet, the internal conflict between lovers is this insecurity, as it is with Omar and Nadia, the external complexes for the difference between the families, and with Omar it's the wall, and what better, it's a very strong physical presence, it helps tell a story. BETH ACCOMANDO: I thought that was a nice release feed and the film they give you a sense of the day today, what it is like and how casually he treats it. Even though to us, it may seem like wow, who have to do that. WALEED ZUAITER: It is a very common part of life that people have learned to deal with it and to survive with it, and I think it just says something about the will to live and the will to survive, and that is the hardest of circumstances and obstacles, which is meant what makes the story more powerful, and regardless of what the intention behind creating the wall, whether for security processes or whatever it is, it's there, and that is a fact, and we just deal with it being there and don't go into why it's there. BETH ACCOMANDO: Was this a difficult film to shoot? WALEED ZUAITER: Yes and no, it was not difficult from the standpoint of we did not have any problems with Israeli or Palestinian authorities, Israelis had a lot of problem with Paradise now, here we do not have any of that---- [[lost audio]]--- re-raising the money, changing different locations, and permits and everything, it was just those day-to-day challenges and were also working with a fairly inexperienced crew, all of our key crew, this was our first time in the key position, the most of them have been assistance or involved in the division or the department before, but we're very proud that all of our key crew members are Palestinian and this is their first time stepping it up and doing that, but doing within that come some difficulties and challenges, for example we did not have trailers, our main character Adam, who plays the role of Omar, he had a chair people Sitting in it so he finally had some of the art right at him on the back of his chair so that nobody sits in it, that kind of presented some day-to-day press charges. BETH ACCOMANDO: What you hope audiences walk away with the film with? WALEED ZUAITER: I have often, but contemplated that myself, when you watch a film about of times you lose perspective and then you have the space for it and watch it again, that happened to me the first time in Toronto and the way I felt was, this is just in the incredible timeless love story and it's a story about trust and betrayal and love, and under the circumstances of occupation, trust is probably the main thing and that can tear apart or keep together a society, and the fabric of a society, is the fabric of society is built on trust and friendship and love, and I hope that people go in to the movie just with a very open mind and a willingness to enjoy the emotional journey that you're taking all the characters BETH ACCOMANDO: Okay, I want to thank you very much for coming out here. WALEED ZUAITER: Take you, thank you very much for having me. [ [ END AUDIO FILE ] ] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Beth Accomando conducted that story, Omar opens in theaters this Friday. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, thank you for listening.

Palestinian actor Waleed Zuaiter stopped by the KPBS studios to talk about the Oscar-nominated "Omar" that opens Friday at Landmark's La Jolla Village.

"Omar" is a tense thriller revolving around issues of trust and betrayal in the Occupied Territories. Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the separation wall to meet up with his girlfriend Nadja (Leem Lubany). By night, he risks his life in a strike at the Israeli military with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Omar is arrested and agrees to work as an informant for an Israeli agent named Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter).

The film is directed by Hany Abu-Assad who made the Oscar-nominated "Paradise Now" back in 2005. That film was one of the first to present a Palestinian perspective on the Middle East, and to serve up issues as complex and divisive. With "Omar," he continues to tackle similar themes and refuses to paint them in simple black and white terms. Adding to both the complexity and the drive to explore it, Abu-Assad casts Palestinian actor Waleed Zuaiter as an Israeli and as one of those representing the occupiers.


Abu-Assad opens with Omar scaling the separation wall and dodging soldiers as if it were no different than dealing with rush hour traffic each morning. Details such as this help paint a portrait of what life is like in the Occupied Territories. Abu-Assad's films are provocative because he doesn't tell you what to think but rather gives us fully human, multi-dimensional characters that struggle with decisions. As a result there are no easy answers only a series of questions and possibilities.

"Omar" is not rated and is in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. The filmmakers find out on March 2 if the film will win the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Companion viewing: "Paradise Now," "Waltz with Bashir," "Divine Intervention"