MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not normally debated in the terms of musical comedy, but last night, filmmaker Ari Sandel won an Oscar for doing just that. He won Best Live Action Short Film for "West Bank Story," a takeoff on "West Side Story."
(SOUNDBITE OF "WEST BANK STORY")
BLOCK: (Singing) If only our stupid neighbor wasn't the Kosher King. Never open on Shabbat, our problems would be not a lot, if only our stupid neighbor wasn't the Hummus Hut.
NORRIS: The conflict in the film is between two side-by-side falafel shops, the Palestinian-owned Hummus Hut and the Israeli-owned Kosher King. And of course, there are two star-crossed lovers, an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian woman who works at the Hummus Hut.
Director Ari Sandel says the idea for the film was pretty simple to begin with.
ARI SANDEL: You know, I've never really been a musical fan. I just had an idea of Jews and Arabs dancing and it's going to be called "West Bank Story" and it's going to be hilarious. But you know, our first attempt at it was about suicide bombers and checkpoints and it just wasn't funny. And really, people said, Look. You can't make a comedy about the Middle East. Nobody wants to see it. You're going to upset every Jew and every Arab. You're going to kill your career before it starts.
So I really took that to heart and I shelved the project for five months but as I would tell people about it, I could see their eyebrows raising and saying, what is this about?
And I'd say, Yeah, it's about, you know, Jews and Arabs dancing.
And so I kind of felt compelled to go back to it. And then my co-writer Kim Ray and myself said we have to come up with a way that shows that both sides are really more similar than they care to admit. So what are some things they have in common? All right, well, one of the things was food. I said what if it was actually about falafel stands and from there it really started to come to life and the comedy was really, you know, made, I think, accessible.
NORRIS: Now I presume, as you say, a lot of people wouldn't really find humor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but, you know, once you start watching the laughs start, you know, rolling. And there's a moment where you play off the similarity between the word hummus and Hamas.
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Character) Wait! Sir.
BEN NEWMARK: (As David) Stop right there.
DEWULF: (As Fatima) I'm just trying to give this hummus package to somebody.
Man (Actor): (As Character) Hamas!
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD GASPING)
Man (Actor): (As Character) She's got a package. We've got a live one.
DEWULF: (As Fatima) No. Wait.
NEWMARK: (As David) No, it's okay. It's okay. She says it's hummus.
DEWULF: (As Fatima) Hummus.
NEWMARK: (As David) Hamas. Hummus.
DEWULF: (As Fatima) Do I look like a suicide bomber? Like I'd be caught dead in this outfit?
NORRIS: A suicide bomber who wouldn't be caught dead in that outfit. And we should say that she's wearing - Why don't you describe what she's wearing?
SANDEL: Yeah, we designed the costumes to be as hokey, kind of fast-foody as possible. So the Palestinian Hummus Hut has kabob hats that look like, literally shish kebobs.
NORRIS: Shish kebobs that extend on either side of their heads.
SANDEL: Yeah, that goes through their head. And then the Kosher King wears these giant pita looking hats.
So yeah, she shows up in her Hummus Hut outfit at the checkpoint wearing this ridiculous outfit, so that's what she's referring to.
NORRIS: I understand that you screened the movie in Dubai. What kind of response did you get there?
SANDEL: The response in Dubai was phenomenal. You have to realize that Dubai is a country that doesn't recognize the state of Israel.
NORRIS: That's why I asked that, yeah.
SANDEL: Yeah. And the movie was received incredibly well. I will say, in the first screening, there was a 10-minute Q&A that went an hour and a half. No one wanted to leave, and the first couple of questions were from Arabs who were like, look, I hate your movie. I don't understand it. It simplifies a situation. It doesn't show the suffering of the Palestinian people. I didn't learn anything.
BLOCK: it's supposed to be a movie about hope. And I made it because there's a sea of negativity out there and I want it to be one drop out there of hope. Because in my heart, I really believe that the situation is solvable.
And finally a Palestinian woman stood up and she said, look, I'm from Gaza. I love your movie. I want a DVD for my family.
And everyone looked at her and it was silent. It was the most amazing validation I've ever had in my life. And then another person stood up and said, I'm from Ramallah. How do I buy a DVD? My family will love it.
And the same guy at the beginning who said, I hate your movie, came up to me afterwards and said, Look. I still don't like your movie but I'm glad you're here and it's important that you made the movie.
NORRIS: Ari Sandel, congratulations.
SANDEL: Thank you so much.
NORRIS: Thank you.
That was Ari Sandel. He won an Oscar last night for the best live action short film, "West Bank Story."