‘Tel Aviv on Fire’ Director Sameh Zoabi Talks About His Venice Fest Film

Born near Nazareth, Israel, director-writer Sameh Zoabi now lives in Brooklyn and teaches at NYU. His second feature, “Tel Aviv on Fire,” screens in Venice’s Orrizonte competition and then at TIFF.

Your first feature, “Man Without a Cell Phone” (2010), had a comedic tone like “Tel Aviv.”

My first feature was inspired by my upbringing, I was not necessarily seeking to make a comedy, but rather to be truthful to a reality I grew up with as a Palestinian. A constant sense of despair hovers, yet there is spirit and a sense of humor around the dinner table. With “Tel Aviv on Fire,” the story deals directly with the subject of conflict perspectives. Similar to my previous film, the tone is comedic — 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.”

“Tel Aviv on Fire” uses the ingenious device of the titular soap opera to connect its multiple levels.

Growing up inside Israel, disconnected from the Arab world, we had limited Arabic shows, mostly Egyptian shows. They had the best soap operas, particularly during Ramadan. The self-conscious/straight-forward nature of soap is a great tool for comedy and for tackling political issues head-on.

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