Abu-Assad, Hany (1961–)

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Abu-Assad, Hany

Hany Abu-Assad (also Hani Abu As'ad) is a Dutch-Palestinian film director. Born in Nazareth, Israel, he moved to the Netherlands as a young man, where he began his filmmaking career. A producer and director of both documentaries and feature films, Abu-Assad in his work incisively portrays the lives of those engulfed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his homeland. In 2005, he won international acclaim for his film, Paradise Now, which tells the story of two Palestinian suicide bombers.


Hany Abu-Assad a secular Muslim, was born on 11 October 1961 in Nazareth, Israel, where he grew up in a wealthy family amid the chaos of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His father operated a longstanding family transportation and delivery business, which had advanced from a stable of camels to a fleet of vans.

In 1981 Abu-Assad's uncle persuaded him to immigrate to the Netherlands, where Abu-Assad studied technical engineering in Haarlem. After working as a process engineer for two years in Amsterdam, Abu-Assad entered the television and film business as a producer. His early filmmaking career included the Dutch television show Dar O Dar, focusing on foreign immigrants, and the documentary Long Days in Gaza, which aired on the BBC. He formed Ayloul Film Production Company in 1990 and, two years later, released the short film Paper House, which he both wrote and directed. The film, which was shown on Dutch television and won several awards, follows the story of a thirteen-year-old Palestinian boy who wishes to rebuild his house after it is destroyed.

Released in 1994, Abu-Assad's first feature film as a producer, Hatta Ishar Akhar, also won numerous awards, including the Gold Pyramid Prize at the Calgary International Film Festival and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. The dramatic film, also known as Curfew, recounted a twenty-four-hour period during a curfew imposed by the Israeli army in a Palestinian refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. Working with Arnon Grunberg, Abu-Assad made his feature film debut as writer and director with Het 14e kippetje (The fourteenth chick), released in 1998. The film premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht but failed to be a commercial success. In 2000, Abu-Assad aired a one-hour documentary Nazareth 2000, on Dutch television, which centered on the cynical but often comical comments of two gas station attendants as they reflect on the unique social and political climate in Nazareth, a city considered important to both Christians and Muslims. In the same year, Abu-Assad formed Augustus Film Production Company with partner Bero Beyer.

In 2002, Abu-Assad's production company released al-Quds fi Yawm Akhar (Jerusalem, another day; internationally as Rana's Wedding), with Abu-Assad serving as the film's director. The film follows the story of a young girl in East Jerusalem who awakens one day to find that her father is moving to Cairo and, in order to stay in Jerusalem, she must get married before his four o'clock flight out of the city. Her wealthy father provides her a list of eligible, suitable men, but Rana sneaks away to seek out the theater director she loves. Through Rana's adventures, the film, billed as a dramatic comedy, depicts the political unrest and social devastation of the city as her search takes her through occupied Jerusalem. Rana's Wedding won numerous awards, including the Golden Anchor Award at the Haifa International Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the Cologne Mediterranean Film Festival, and the Golden Antigone at the Montpellier Film Festival.

The documentary Ford Transit—written, produced, and directed by Abu-Assad—was also released in 2002. The film depicts a day in the life Rajai, who drives a Ford Transit taxi (a popular mode of transportation) in the Palestinian territories. The film caused considerable controversy in the Netherlands and was pulled from Dutch television after the factual basis of the film was called into question, including the use of a Palestinian actor to portray a brutal Israeli soldier. Nonetheless, the film won the FIPRESCI Award (International Federation of Film Critics) at the Thessalonica Festival, In the Spirit of Freedom Award in Jerusalem, and the Nestor Almedros Award (for courageous filmmaking on human rights) in New York.

In 2005 Abu-Assad earned international critical acclaim with the release of Paradise Now. The film tells the story of two Palestinian childhood friends who volunteer to become suicide bombers. Paradise Now was nominated for an Academy Award and received thirteen awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, the European Film Award, the Amnesty International Film Prize, and the Blue Angel from the Berlin International Film Festival. Following the success of Paradise Now, Abu-Assad moved to Hollywood to begin work with DViant Films on his next feature, L.A. Cairo, a tragedy-comedy about the Arab-American dream.


Abu-Assad claims that he is a filmmaker, not a politician. He wants to make movies that tell a story but not necessarily build a political agenda. Nonetheless, although he has spent most of his adult life in the Netherlands, he has been formed and shaped by the Palestinian experience of being occupied.


Name: Hany Abu-Assad

Birth: 1961, Nazareth, Israel; moved to the Netherlands, 1981

Nationality: Dutch citizen Palestinian


  • 1990: Forms Ayloul Film Production Company
  • 1992: Writes and directs short film Paper House
  • 1998: Writes and directs feature film Het 14e kippetje (The fourteenth chick)
  • 2000: Produces and directs television documentary Nazareth 2000; forms Augustus Film Production Company
  • 2002: Directs feature film al-Quds fi Yawm Akhar (Jerusalem, another day; internationally as Rana's Wedding); produces and directs television documentary Ford's Transit
  • 2005: Writes and directs feature film Paradise Now

He is often assertive about his limited ability to change his homeland: "Films change nothing. If they did, things would already be different," he told an audience following a showing of the film, according to the American Jewish magazine Tikkun. Nonetheless, he also hangs on to a glimmer of hope. He told Tikkun magazine he believes in "the conscience of the Jewish people. The Jews have been the conscience of humanity, always, wherever you go…. I think Hitler wanted to kill the conscience of the Jews, the conscience of humanity. But this conscience is still alive … maybe a bit weak … but still alive. Thank God!"


Much of the controversy surrounding Paradise Now occurred when the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The Academy originally listed the film's origins as Palestine, but when Israeli officials objected (the United States does not recognized Palestine as an independent state), the Academy altered the wording to the Palestine Authority, which infuriated Abu-Assad. Ultimately, the Academy used the wording Palestine Territories.

Abu-Assad has been lauded by human rights groups for his portrayal of the injustice and inhumanity of the conditions under which many Palestinians live. At the same time, others have strongly criticized him for showing suicide bombers too sympathetically. The world's perspective on Abu-Assad depends immeasurably on the political and social backdrop of his critics.


Although not the first film to address the issue, Paradise Now is the first to portray suicide bombers as human beings—not ultimately evil nor righteously glorious in their acts. "There were some Palestinians who wanted to see these characters as superheroes, as almost inhuman in their great powers," Abu-Assad told Newsweek. "There were also those—Europeans, Americans, Israelis, whomever—who wanted to see these characters as evil monsters. Again, as inhuman. But that's not what this film is about…. They are strong and weak—and it's in those weak moments that they are the most human."


Agassi, Tirzah. "In Conversation: Paradise Now Director Hany Abu-Assad." Tikkun. Available from http://tikkun.org/magazine.

――――――. "Middle East Tensions Hang Over Palestinian Nominee for an Oscar." San Francisco Chronicle. 26 February 2006. Available from http://www.SFGate.com.

Ali, Lorraine. "Suicide Bombers Are People, Too." Newsweek. 14 November 2005. Available from http://www.Newsweek.com.

"I Risked My Life to Make This Movie." Telegraph. 4 July 2006. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk.

"Interview with Hany Abu-Assad: Paradise Now." Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Available from http://wwwadc.org.

"It Was a Joke I Was Even Nominated." Guardian. 20 January 2006. Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/.

Segal, Victoria. "Suicide Machine: A Power Tale of West Bank Bombers Offers Bleak Insights." New Statesman 135, no. 4788 (2006): 46.

Westcott, Kathryn. "Film Explores Suicide Bomb Motives." BBC News. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/.

Young, Deborah. "Rana's Wedding/Jerusalem, Another Day." Variety 387, no. 2 (2002): 25.

                                            Alisa Larson

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