Brimming with humor and multiple plotlines, Sameh Zoabi's Tel Aviv on Fire relates the comic exploits of Salam, a Palestinian man who gets his big break as a writer on Tel Aviv on Fire, a popular television soap opera. The series follows the machinations of sultry Palestinian star Tala (Lubna Azabal, Strangers SFJFF 2008), who plays a Jewish character named Rachel, a fictional Palestinian spy during the 1967 Six-Day War. Salam starts out working as a lowly prop assistant in Uncle Bassam's television production company in Ramallah, but when the scriptwriter of the series suddenly leaves, Salam jumps at the chance to join the writing team. At first Salam struggles with writer's block and even calls his mother, a fan of the series, for ideas. Things get complicated when, on the way into Jerusalem, Salam is stopped at a checkpoint and commanding officer Assi turns out to be an aspiring writer himself. As Assi and Salam start working on the script together, each man jockeys to have his plotline come out ahead. Salam hopes that his newfound success will aid him in his efforts to win back his old love, Mariam (Maïsa Abd Elhadi, Personal Affairs, SFJFF 2017), whom he jilted a few years earlier. The fact that she and everyone in the hospital where she works are addicted to Tel Aviv on Fire, can only help his cause. But life as a burgeoning screenwriter has unforeseen pressures, as Tala, Bassam, Salam's mother and Assi all have their own ideas about how the series should end. Ultimately, this biting satire with a stellar ensemble cast begs the question: Who controls the narrative of a script or, for that matter, of history? -Nancy K. Fishman
Director Sameh Zoabi in person in San Francisco and Palo Alto
SAMEH ZOABI was born and raised in Iksal, near the city of Nazareth. Zoabi graduated from Tel Aviv University with a dual degree in Film Studies and English Literature. Zoabi then received a Fulbright Fellowship to study Filmmaking at Columbia University, earning an M.F.A. in 2005. Zoabi's work has been shown in many international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Locarno, Sundance, Karlovy Vary, and the New York Film Festival. A selection of Zoabi's notable work includes a short film titled Be Quiet (2005), for which received a prize at the Cannes Film Festival-Cinefondation Selection. His feature film debut, Man Without a Cell Phone (2010), won several audience awards as well as the Golden Antigone at the 2011 Montpellier Film Festival. Soon after, Zoabi wrote the original script of The Idol(2015), which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Most recently, Zoabi premiered his feature film, Tel Aviv On Fire (2018) at Toronto Film Festival and the 75th Venice International Film Festival, where the film received The Orizzonti Award for Best Actor.Along with his work as a filmmaker, Zoabi developed akeen interest in academia. Currently, Zoabi teaches core classes in directing and screenwriting.
Orizzonti Award for Best Actor, Venice