When Adi Adwan wanted to make a film and looked around for a reference point, he drew a blank. No one in the Druze community, a conservative and secretive sect derived from Islam and based in Israel, had made a film before. All he had was the wave of inspiration provided by Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.
After years of nursing the dream and dabbling in documentaries for some time, he began working on it in 2009. Four years down the line, he is now travelling the world with the first film from the Druze community, Arabani, which was screened to a packed audience at the 18th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).
“Ever since I was 10 years old, I had wanted to make a film. The only works even remotely connected to this from my community were the documentaries,” he says.
But then, he could not immediately follow his dream as he was drafted into mandatory service in the Israel army, just as every other male from the Druze community. “The Druze belief says that we should be loyal to the country we are born in. It is a kind of survival strategy as we are a small community of around a lakh and we will be protected by the country this way. There are Druze people in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, who we may sometimes fight against in the army,” he says.
Mr. Adwan says that now he would think twice about joining the military. “I was an 18-year-old then and I went in because you would be seen as a bad man if you refuse. But now I might refuse as I know that the Druze people do not get equal rights in Israel. It is also unfair to impose military service on young people who have other dreams,” he says.
After three years in the army, he worked for five years in a bank until he reached a point where he could not take it anymore.
“I worked on some documentaries for Al Jazeera and some other media. Later, I started pitching the idea for Arabani at various forums. It was difficult to get funding for cinema as only documentaries were supported by most foundations. I somehow finished it on a shoestring budget,” he says.
The film is set in the milieu that he is familiar with, and tells the story of Yosefh, a Druze man who returns to his native village after 17 years. His decision to settle down with his son and daughter leads to tension within the conservative Druze community.
The film has been a revelation for the outside world.
Mr. Adwan also has the credit for coining the word ‘Arabani,’ a combination of Arabic and Hebrew (known as Abrani in his region).
“It is the language that we talk, but it did not have a name. I coined the term on the lines of Yiddish and Spanglish. I just hope that the success of this film spurs more such endeavours from our community,” he says.
He is already in the works for his second film Wadi Hamam (Dove Valley), a film about a 10-year-old child who wants to fly. As for his dream, he wants to meet his idol Giuseppe Tornatore.