Why I had to make this film
I have this crazy idea. Could a regional love of hummus be the recipe for peace in the Middle East? That was the starting point for this film's hummus journey. I believe passionately that documentaries are a vital part of international culture and democracy with a unique role to play in reflecting the way we live-challenging our ideas, assumptions and fears about the past, present and future of our world. That's why I make them and have done so for almost on 30 years. Just like hummus, films are an essential part of my life and they nourish me to.
Funny, lively and insightful-that's how I sold the film-a fresh take on a 60 year old battle ground in the Middle East. I wanted to make a charming portrait, without taking sides, to examine the hummus conflict in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine from the point of view of these peoples' first shared love: chickpeas. Humour from both sides of the 'plate' was the number one ingredient.
I've grown up and lived my entire life with the ongoing Middle East conflict, fortunately and luckily, viewing it from the safety of Australia. But the conflict touches my life directly and indirectly in many significant ways. It's affected my love life at different stages as outlined in the film's story. I've had many Lebanese and Palestinian friends, refugees from various conflicts who've taken haven in Australia. I've also had Israeli draft dodger friends who came here to hide, to escape the army, and live their lives in a way we take for granted. Two of my dearest friends Yosl and Audrey Bergner live in Tel Aviv. During Gulf War 1, in 1990, they would ring me in Melbourne to tell me they were sitting in their living room, on their sofa, staring at each other wearing gas masks, as outside their windows air raid sirens blared warning of approaching rockets. They were in their early 70s at the time and married for over 40 years. "What a sight", Yosl told me, "After 40 years, now we talk to each other through gas masks".
Then there is my father's story, just another example of how, although we are on the other side of the world, Australians are deeply connected to the Middle East. Dad, because of his war service loved the Old City, Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world. It was an extraordinary place to film this story. Not only is some of the best hummus in the world arguably found here, at 'Abu Shukri' and 'Lina', it's is a city steeped in conflict, both ancient and modern, and its walls speak of the age-old battles they have witnessed. It's living history.
So I wanted Make Hummus Not War to provide a different take on the politics and strife that has engulfed the Middle East since before the foundation of Israel in 1948. Whilst the film is intentionally humorous, it does inform some grand and passionate themes and back stories. Hummus and chick peas are a symbol of our common humanity, our common ancient roots to live, eat, taste and enjoy life. For my part, I wanted this movie to communicate, as Bill Clinton did in 1992, at the height of the Balkans crisis, "We have more in common than divides us". To make hummus from the oldest of cultivated crops-chick peas-is a symbol of what it means to be human, traversing frontiers, cultural, religious, national and personal.
Through my research and making the film, I didn't believe it was ultimately possible to come to a conclusion about any one nationality owning hummus. Nor did I want to. It belongs to the region. It's a food of the Levant dating back centuries. But I was very confident asserting that I too am owner, as a passionate maker and eater of this tasty dip-as are other zealous hummus foodies.
I'm a Middle Eastern fanatic when it comes to food. Not a week goes by without consulting Claudia Roden's, Arabesque or her book, Middle Eastern Food. And now the pleasures of Janna Gur's, The Book of New Israeli Food and Christiane Dabdoub Nasser's, Classic Palestinian Cooking, having been added to our kitchen. Tajines, hummus and baba ganoush are staples in Bondi Beach. The flavour for these foods has been a part of my life since I was a teenager, as is outlined in the film's story. And as one gets older, reflection gathers momentum about who you are and where you come from. That's why I made this film.
Jenni Meaney and Trevor Graham at the Mahane Yehuda market Jerusalem.
I wanted the film to be a mixture of styles, observational moments bringing to life hummus so an audience would leave the cinema hungry for more-both hummus and its delicious history. I found great characters with great stories and humour. It was an honour to meet them all and have the opportunity of filming aspects of their lives. I particularly loved filming with Lebanese Minister of Tourism Fadi Abboud. He has a great sense of humour and was extremely generous with his time and views. We carved out a special place for food writer Claudia Roden. Her work, knowledge, experience and recipes are treated as hallowed ground. She is after all the doyenne of Middle Eastern food. And she speaks eloquently about all Middle East food traditions, Jewish and Arabic. Animation was always a key ingredient to enhance the humour and to tell my personal family story. With animator Tim Richter we developed a style that draws on Terry Gilliam's Monty Python's Flying Circus. The animations are often whimsical, mixed media with references to art, history and religion as well as my own personal story.
Director - Make Hummus Not War