2014 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE GREEN PRINCE

green princeResuming my overview of this year’s World Cinema Documentary Competition: From Germany/Israel/UK, THE GREEN PRINCE, Nadav Schirman’s exploration of the unlikely relationship between would-be mortal enemies.

Sundance Program Description:

THE GREEN PRINCE is such an extraordinary story that one is tempted to think it is fiction, if only somebody had the audacity to invent it.

A Palestinian in Ramallah, Mosab Hassan Yousef grows up angry and ready to fight Israel. Arrested for smuggling guns at the age of 17, he’s interrogated by the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, and sent to prison. But shocked by Hamas’s ruthless tactics in the prison and the organization’s escalating campaign of suicide bombings outside, Mosab agrees to spy for Israel. For him, there is no greater shame. For his Shin Bet handler, Gonen, there is no greater prize: “operating” the oldest son of a founding member of Hamas.

Based on Yousef’s memoir, SON OF HAMAS, THE GREEN PRINCE is a story of two men, spy and handler, whom history insists must be adversaries. That they could reach a point of trust or friendship seems absurd. Embroidering a tangled web of intrigue, terror, and betrayal, Nadav Schirman builds superb tension throughout a surprisingly emotional journey. Ultimately, THE GREEN PRINCE is less about political struggle than personal coming-to-terms with responsibility and moral duty.

Some Background:
This is Schirman’s third doc feature as director; his previous films share thematic similarities – the Israel Film Academy-winning THE CHAMPAGNE SPY focuses on the son of a Mossad agent, while IN THE DARK ROOM, a selection of IDFA and the NYFF, profiles the wife and daughter of infamous terrorist/revolutionary Carlos the Jackal. He also produced NO PLACE ON EARTH, and shares producing credit on his latest film with Passion Pictures’ John Battsek, also at Sundance as producer of fellow 2014 titles CAPTIVATED: THE TRIALS OF PAMELA SMART, HAPPY VALLEY, and HAPPY VALLEYWE ARE THE GIANT, and a Sundance alum as producer of MANHUNT and executive producer of several other alums, most recently THE SUMMIT (2013), THE IMPOSTER (2012), and SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012); and with Sundance alum Simon Chinn of Red Box Films, producer of SUGAR MAN, PROJECT NIM (2011), and MAN ON WIRE (2008), and executive producer of THE IMPOSTER. Serving as executive producers are Sheryl Crown, also a Sundance alum as executive producer of SUGAR MAN and SECRETS OF THE TRIBE (2010) and producer of HOUSE OF AMERICA (1997); Maggie Monteith, executive producer of SUGAR MAN; and Thomas Weymar, who also worked with Schirman as co-producer of NO PLACE ON EARTH. Taking co-executive producer credits are Passion Pictures’ Nicole Stott (co-executive producer of CAPTIVATED and co-producer of SUGAR MAN) and George Chignell (co-producer of SUGAR MAN and PROJECT NIM). Finally, one of the project’s editors, Joëlle Alexis, was the world cinema editing award winner for Sundance alum A FILM UNFINISHED (2010).

Why You Should Watch:
Tackling the dangerous terrain of Middle Eastern politics and security, Schirman’s film is something like a mix of THE GATEKEEPERS and HOMELAND (or perhaps its Israeli forebear PRISONERS OF WAR). Schirman and his producers have crafted a remarkably strong two-hander, focusing solely on Yousef and Gonen to tell an always gripping, often unbelievable story of betrayal, collusion, and shifting allegiances. Both men are complex figures, whose surprising candor forces viewers to constantly re-evaluate their assumptions about the tale they’re being told. Sure to garner extra attention as a Day One film, this is one to watch for in the months to come.

More Info:
As they become available, I’ll link to the film’s website, Schirman’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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