"It starts with cinema": Amos Gitai on his upcoming play in Paris and La Biennale Architettura project

Amos Gitai has never been far from our thoughts, or out of cinematic radars, with a film premiering almost every year at major film festivals like Venice and Cannes -- now he's bringing his tryptic of films about a house in Jerusalem to the stage in Paris and to La Biennale Architettura 2023.
"It starts with cinema": Amos Gitai on his upcoming play in Paris and La Biennale Architettura project

"I think the transposition of this documentary [House, 1980] into the theatrical and exhibition space is fascinating. And it starts with cinema, then it becomes theater and then an installation," admits Amos Gitai on an early morning phone call, before heading off to rehearsals for his play House, which opens on March 14th at La Colline theater in Paris.

I catch up briefly with the Haifaa-born auteur to ask him about his latest achievements -- he's just received a special honorary prize, complete with medal in Mexico, where a retrospective of his films was also screened at the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City, Gitai's theatrical adaptation of House is premiering on the Paris stage in mid-March and come May of this year, his work will also be featured at La Biennale di Venezia Architettura, as a Special Participation, with his project to be exhibited inside the historic Arsenale.

I ask him how the latter came to be, as I imagine this means a lot to Gitai who trained as an architect, and whose father is the late Munio Gitai Weinraub, one of the most prominent representatives of the Bauhaus heritage in Israel.

Gitai explains, "the chief curator of the Biennale is a woman I respect a lot, her name is Lesley Lokko -- she was the Dean of Architecture at The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY, from which she subsequently resigned in 2020 to start a school of architecture for women in Ghana." He continues, "we met on a stormy evening, inside MoMA in March of 2020, there was an evening for the letters of my mother [Efratia Margalit] and the critic of the New Yorker wanted us to meet." In a cruel twist of fate, "he died, ten days later of Covid -- so we are kind of friends by the decree of [the late] Michael Sorkin," Gitai admits.

When Lokko was nominated to be the chief curator of La Biennale Architecture, Gitai explains, "we spoke about the fact that she wanted me to do something around the trilogy of films that I did, over 25 years, on House, which is also the play that is coming up in Paris."

House (Beit), as Gitai tells me, is considered to be the Maestro's first film, a 1980 documentary "telling the story of a house which used to be owned by a Palestinian gynecologist in Jerusalem, who had to leave it in 1948 because of the war, and then how the Israeli government installed there Algerian Jews." Gitai continues, "the moment that I was filming it, a very well known Israeli economist got it and decided to transform this one story house into a three story mansion. But in order to do that he had to bring in Palestinian workers from the refugee camps and stones from the mountains of Hebron. So the house is a kind of microcosmos, of Israeli and Palestinians — their attachment, their conflicts, to this same piece of land."

Over the course of 25 years, Gitai returned to the house, and also credits the documentary about it for his entry into cinema. "This was my original film. And then the film was censored by the Israeli TV at the time, and that’s one of the reasons I became a filmmaker -- because I didn’t accept that censorship and I fought for the film." So "15 years later, [in 1997] ARTE asked me to go back to the same house and do the second chapter, which is called House in Jerusalem. And 25 years later, a quarter of a century after the first film I went again, and that film is called News from Home/News from House (2005). This is a unique cinematic project which was shot over 25 years."

Both the play opening this March in Paris, before moving onto to London in the next year, and La Biennale installation are based on this tryptic of films. On the stage, Gitai, aided by assistant director Talia de Vries, features an ensemble cast which is as diverse as the occupants of the house in Jerusalem have been, throughout the years. Palestinian actress Bahira Ablassi, Jordanian/Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab, Benna Flynn, French/Swiss actress Irène Jacob, violinist, composer and frequent Gitai collaborator Alexey Kochetkov, French thespian Micha Lescot, Israeli actor Pini Mittelman, Persian musical artist Kioomars Musayyebi, Tel Aviv-born, Ophir-nominated actor Menashe Noy, actor Minas Qarawany and Atallah Tannous help Gitai in presenting the play he also wrote, as well as directs, a nearly two-hour show in English, Arabic, French, Hebrew with French and English subtitles.

I don't wish to take away from Gitai's prolific, award-winning and extraordinary career when I ask him if all this newfound interest in his work, told through many different mediums may also be due to the fact that we feel so hopeless with how politics are handling our lives. Never one to undermine someone else's opinion, Gitai answers generously, "I agree with you Nina, it’s a very desperate moment, also for my dear countrymen — the takeover, in brutal manners by the Netanyahu people and the conflicts in the West Bank with the Palestinians. All of that is very alarming, very depressing." He continues, thoughtfully, "and obviously the Middle East is not the only spot on the planet, with the Ukrainian war, with dictators emerging from other places." Gitai feels a duty, a personal responsibility "to try to keep doing opinionated works, not demagogic, not propagandistic but opinionated -- work that tries to share ways of thinking about the contemporary situation. I think that’s part of the appeal. That’s my interpretation too."

For more information on House -- which runs from March 14th to April 13th, 2023 at the Grand Théâtre -- and to purchase tickets, visit La Colline National Theater's website.

And for La Biennale Architettura, opening on May 20th and thru November 26th, 2023 visit their website here.

Photos by © Simon Gosselin, courtesy of La Colline Théâtre National, used with permission.

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