Material For A Film
June 3, 2006
I am presenting a new work in this years Sydney Biennale which opens in a few days. Here is the website as well as information on my project which is the first part of this two part project.
"Material for a film"
On Monday October 16, 1972, Wael Zuaiter left Janet Venn-Brown’s apartment and headed to his apartment at no. 4 Piazza Annibaliano in Rome. He had been reading "A Thousand and One Nights" on Janet’s couch searching for references to use in an article he was planning to write that evening. He took two buses to get from Janet’s place to his in northern Rome. Just as he reached the elevator inside the entrance to the building of the apartment block where he lived, Israeli assassins fired 12 bullets into his head and chest with 22 caliber pistols at close range
Wael Zuaiter had become the first victim in Europe in a series of assassinations committed by Israeli agents of Palestinian artists, intellectuals and diplomats which was already underway in the Middle East.
Wael Zuaiter was denied the right to be buried in his homeland in the city of his birth, Nablus, and was buried in Syria.
In 1979, Wael Zuaiter’s companion of eight years, Sydney born artist Janet Venn-Brown published For A Palestinian – A Memorial to Wael Zuaiter. One chapter, titled “Material for a film” by Elio Petri and Ugo Pirro, is comprised of a series of interviews conducted with the people who were part of Wael’s life in Italy, including Janet herself. They were going to make a film, but Elio Petri died shortly afterwards and the film was never realized.
I went back to Rome in 2005 to continue collecting material for a film.
I found Janet in Rome last September at the opening of her solo exhibition of paintings of Roman living rooms. The Australian ambassador to Rome, Peter Woolcott, and the president of the province of Rome, Enrico Gasbarra, inaugurated the exhibition.
Janet and I spent many weeks together, calling on Wael’s old friends and going through her extensive archives. I found a letter Janet had written to Costas Gavras asking him to consider making a film about Wael because she believed that through his story, the story of thousands of other Palestinians could be told.
Janet was raised on Sydney’s North shore. She studied painting in Sydney before moving to Rome in 1957. Wael moved to Rome in 1962 to learn Italian and study opera. They met in 1964 at the artists’ street fair on Via Margutta where Janet was exhibiting her paintings in the section for foreigners. An Indian artist whose work was displayed next to Janet introduced them so that they could speak English to each other. Every night for five days, Wael helped Janet roll up her paintings and carry them back to her house To impress her he sang “It Was a Lover and His Lass” from Shakespeare's “As You Like It”.
Wael’s friends during his ten years in Rome included a myriad of cultural leaders, artists, journalists and poets, including Alberto Moravia (with whom he traveled twice to the Middle East with), Raphael Alberti, Bruno Cagli, Jean Genet, Ennio Politi, Piero Della Seta, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Janet told me “He was a poet. He was completely lost without poetry.”
Shortly before his death, Wael destroyed his poems and everything he had ever written, All that remains of his writing now is an article published in the newspaper L’Espresso two or three weeks before his assassination. He ended this article quoting the English mystic Francis Thompson:
"That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star"