The Price of Kings – Yasser Arafat: Film Review

An engrossingly edited, celebratory view of PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s personal sacrifices during his political career.

British documentary filmmaker Richard Symon depicts the controversial ruler's political and diplomatic achievements in the most positive light possible.

British documaker Richard Symon’s planned 12-part series on world leaders kicks off with the long, colourful and controversial Yasser Arafat, whose political and diplomatic achievements are here depicted in the most positive light possible. Choosing not to address the accusations of terrorism that have been levelled at Arafat’s PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), this well-researched doc focuses on the personal sacrifice made by the man Arafat to create a portrait verging on hagiography. Most interesting is the appraisal of friends and adversaries like his widow Suha, former Maltese president Guido de Marco and Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres, who will be the subject of Symon’s next film. The quality of the film-making lifts it above straight history channel material, and it should see the light in a number of fests before dvd life begins.

The story of Arafat (1929-2004) starts with the 1947 partition of Palestine when he was still a student in Cairo, though it was not until 1959 that he founded the political party Fatah, espousing liberation from Israeli domination through the efforts of Palestinians themselves.

Per Suha Arafat, her husband was “never a killer or a terrorist, but a freedom fighter.” When statesman Guido de Marco suggested to Arafat that he pursue a policy of non-violent passive resistance like Mahatma Gandhi, the PLO chief replied there are a billion Indians but only a few hundred thousand Palestinians, who could be shot and killed. Nevertheless, by 1974 Arafat seemed to realize that military means would never achieve peace.

Arafat was the first Palestinian leader to recognize the state of Israel, and his concessions in Oslo in 1993 and at Camp David in 2000, agreeing to accept the 1967 boundaries of Palestine with only 22-23 percent of the original land, are recognized on camera by Israel’s chief negotiator as major concessions. He comes across anyway as a wily, astute politician “married to his country,” flexible on the outside but tough as nails underneath. He also won the grudging respect of Israeli P.M. Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination in 1995 came as a terrible blow to Arafat’s negotiations for peace.

Symons skillfully edits a great deal of complex Middle East history into digestible, bite-size chunks, and narrates Arafat’s life through an array of important interviews. There is no attempt to make journalistic scoops about the corruption of Arafat’s coterie, or to espouse unproven theories about his death. Suha Arafat is both articulate and frank in recounting her personal relationship to the Palestinian leader.

Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Arabian Nights section)
Production company: Spirit Level Films 
Director: Richard Symons
Screenwriters: Richard Symons, Joanna Natasegara 
Producer: Joanna Natasegara 
Directors of photography: Jake Corbett, Audrey Aquilina
Music: Stuart Briner, Tom McFarland
Editor: Richard Symons 
Sales Agent: Spirit Level Films 
No rating, 73 minutes

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