Director's Statement on Mars at Sunrise

Mars at Sunrise is a film that was inspired by the life of Hani Zurob.
I met Hani years ago while making my film Meet Me Out of the Siege. He spoke to me about the torture he endured. He described the perverse relationship between himself and his jailor. Hani’s interrogator asked him to collaborate with Israeli Intelligence and disclose which artists in Ramallah had connections to the various “terrorist” organizations. The officer asked Hani to sketch his portrait, and when Hani refused to sign the sketch, his hands all the time bound with plastic handcuffs, the officer broke the hand he believed was the artist’s drawing hand. I began to ask myself what interest did this military man have in a painter? I became very curious about the inner world of these two men. Could it be that within the interrogator lay a deep creativity akin that within Hani?
When the screenplay was finally finished I sent Hani the text. We shared great trust, affection and friendship between us. I told him I would not make a film that was harmful to Palestine in anyway. I promised I would not simplify his story and juxtapose it unfairly against the pain of his jailor, or make another problematic stereotypical film about the occupation. But these are just words. When he read the script, he saw that the interrogator in my film was an artist like himself, and he felt this pushed the limit too far. Could I dare to imagine that the man who tortured him was an artist? We had planned to use his paintings in the film as the body of work for the character of Khaled. He said we could not use them.
Eventually I accepted the reality that I might never please my friend. I understood that it would be nearly impossible to make a film about a torture victim’s experience that the victim would not feel deceived by. The film became a rich tapestry of hundreds of people’s testimonies, filtered through the witness of my imagination. Mars at Sunrise developed a truly universal language, even as many of the scenes remained written word for word from Hani’s original testimony.
I recently traveled to Paris to visit Hani. I prepared myself for what could be one of the hardest days of my life. I told myself, when he says “I never want to see this film again” or “you have betrayed me” I would have to be strong and understand it’s bigger than him or me now. There are great truths in this film and I know it’s a powerful work made by many talented, dedicated people. But I was scared.
We were alone when we watched the film. His eight-month pregnant wife was stuck in Jerusalem, fighting the bureaucracy of the occupation. She was unable to leave the country without losing her Jerusalem ID and the right to live in the home where she was born, because she had been living in Paris for the last years. Nevertheless, she needed to leave immediately to deliver the child on French soil so her otherwise stateless Gazan child could have a chance at a French passport. Hani was deep in the thick net of the occupation, although we sat in a small painting studio in Paris.
I trembled with nerves, drinking the tiny cup of strong Arabic coffee in front of me. As the credit sequence appeared on the screen I knew he would soon turn and look me in the eyes. I held my breath until he said “Mabrouk” and a smile spread wide across his face. A soft smile, a reflective smile. A genuine smile full of stirred up memories. Congratulations he said again, and I released tension in my body that I had been holding for five years.
Hani said that it was difficult that in many ways Khaled and Eyal’s stories parallel, but ultimately he felt the work was strong, sophisticated and intelligent. From his point of view, Khaled’s character is the one that allows Eyal to look into the mirror and see for himself who he has become. In that moment I felt deep gratitude to all who have trusted me with their stories, and a great hope that we will transcend the many walls we have built between us on Earth, one story at a time.

Filmmakers Jessica Habie and Deema Dabis Launch the Fajr Falestine Film Fund

Fajr Falestine Film Fund Will Produce and Finance Groundbreaking Cinema from the Middle East
New York, NY – January 16, 2014 – Filmmakers Jessica Habie and Deema Dabis today announced the creation of the Fajr Falestine Film Fund, a new film fund which will support the production of groundbreaking, experimental films from the Middle East, with a particular emphasis on Palestinian films. The fund will be managed and overseen by the Eyes Infinite Foundation, a U.S. based non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the relationship between art and social change.
The Fajr Falestine Film Fund aims to create an independent film collective in which five selected filmmakers will receive financial support to produce thought-provoking, experimental films focused on political, social and cultural issues in the Middle East. The collective’s five inaugural filmmakers will be selected by the Fajr Falestine Film Fund’s “Pillars”, an international panel of judges comprised of prominent artists and scholars which include: filmmaker Cherien Dabis (Amreeka), writer and actress Najla Said, cinema scholar Robert Keser, Arab Film Festival Programmer Laurence Mazouni, Director/Producer Natalie Handalm, Palestinian Artist Sharif Waked and actress/director/producer Iman Aoun. For complete bios on the Fajr Falestine Film Fund “Pillars”, please visit:
“We created the Fajr Falestine Film Fund in order to provide a new distribution avenue to a vibrant community of filmmakers and artists creating experimental films exploring contemporary issues in the Arab world,” commented Fajr Falestine Film Fund founder Jessica Habie. “We strongly believe in the power of cinema to incite social change and are thrilled to offer like-minded filmmakers an opportunity to receive funding, guidance and distribution for their films.”
The Fajr Falestine Film Fund’s first feature film, MARS AT SUNRISE directed by fund founder Jessica Habie, will have a limited theatrical release on February 7, 2014, with extensive digital distribution to follow. As part of this, the filmmakers will employ a pay-it-forward digital distribution model in collaboration with Distrify, which offers like-minded organizations and individuals the ability to embed the film on their websites and social media pages to create additional revenue streams.
All profits from the digital release of MARS AT SUNRISE will go back into the Fund in order to finance additional projects. The Judges will be looking for micro budget projects that can benefit from the resources and distribution channels that MARS AT SUNRISE is utilizing in its digital distribution. The goal of the project is to fully fund films as well as supply partial funding to projects with bigger budgets. The long term goal of the Fund is to release five projects every two years, growing the pool of funding every year over a ten year period until the collective is able to develop, produce and distribute five feature length projects every funding cycle. Information on the additional five selected Fajr Falestine films for the 2014 cycle will be available during the digital distribution of the film.
For more information about the Fajr Falestine Film Fund, please visit:
About the Eyes Infinite Foundation
The Eyes Infinite Foundation is a 501c3 Non Profit Organization dedicated to documenting the relationship between creativity and social change. The Foundation was responsible for the production of twelve original short documentaries made in Israel and Palestine between the years of 2004 and 2008. Recently the Foundation has teamed up with Misfit Media to bring Eyes Infinite’s focus to include artists and projects within the United States of America as well.
MARS AT SUNRISE is the story of a war waged on imagination. A painter’s resistance, courage and spirit can never be imprisoned in this highly stylized story of the conflict of two frustrated artists on either side of Israel’s militarized borders. Inspired by the creative journey of renowned Palestinian artist in exile Hani Zurob and on true stories and testimonies from the region, we witness expression, confinement, torture, jealousy, courage and freedom as both artists from each culture strive to paint a picture of life surrounded by conflict.
Mars at Sunrise stars Ali Suliman as Khaled, Golden Globe Winner for Best Foreign Film 2005, Paradise Now; Guy El Hanan as Eyal, an Israeli radio personality and an accomplished playwright; and Haale Gafori as Azzadeh, a singer based in Brooklyn and author of the film’s original poetry. The soundtrack features six languages (English, Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, Farsi and Arabic) and was produced by Tamir Muskat of the Balkan Beat Box, and featuring original music by Itamar Ziegler and Mohsen Subhi.

The Evolution of Mars at Sunrise

After making my documentaries Art and Apathy and Beyond Blue and Gray I was left feeling my work in the region was not complete. I was especially interested in the testimony of a Palestinian man named Wajee Tameise. He shared with me a story in which he found himself waiting at an Israeli checkpoint for a young solider to wake up. This solider had fallen asleep on duty. His slumber blocked the path of mothers, grandmothers, children, businessmen and students alike. When the soldier suddenly awoke he motioned with his foot to open the checkpoint.
This image, with its problematic poetry, illuminates the day to day relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and shows how un-natural and even perverted “non-violent” interactions between the two groups has become. I wanted to expose the beautifully tragic humanity expressed in this simple, yet cruel image of a sleeping solider. I did not feel the documentary medium offered me the language I needed to turn these impressions into something meaningful and innovative. I needed a more subtle language.
I knew that if I set out to make a film that explained my thoughts in a linear, literal way my film, like many attempted in the region, would drown in a world of clichés and righteous indignation. I put together an hour of documentary material that I thought was provocative and assembled a group of musicians, asking them to respond creatively to the documentary. This resulted in a powerful collaboration with world-renowned producer Tamir Muskat of the Balkan Beat Box. Together we built a recording studio in the desert near Gaza and invited musicians from Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Iran (via Sweden) to create a soundtrack in English, Farsi, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. From the original music, I wrote the narrative of Mars at Sunrise. The relationship between the two main characters, Eyal and Khaled, was born from the guitar and oud performances of Mohsen Subhi (Ramallah) and Itamar Zeigler (Tel Aviv).

Mars at Sunrise Credits

An Eyes Infinite and Majdal Films Production
Directed by Jessica Habie
Mars at Sunrise is Jessica Habie’s first Feature Film. Her documentary works “Beyond Blue and Gray” and “Art and Apathy” received awards at several film festivals including Tribeca Film Festival, The Cannes Short Film Corner, and the Berlinale Talent Campus.
Produced by Nirah Shirazipour
Produced by Baher Agbariya
Thirst (Attash) 2004, Last Days in Jerusalem (2011), Man Without a Cell Phone (2010)
Edited by Luis Carballar
Amores Perros (2000), Manorca (2008), Sin Nombre (2009), The Devil’ s Double (2011), Immigrant(2012)
Edited by ErezOs
Director of Photography Xavier Culllineras
Sound Design by Martin Herndandez
Amores Perros (2000), Babel (2006) Into the Wild (2007), The Loneliest Planet (2011) On the Road(2012)
Soundtrack produced by Tamir Muskat of the Balkan Beat Box, featuring Original Music by Itamar Ziegler and Mohsen Subhi


Ali Suliman as Khaled
Ali has starred in Paradise Now (Golden Globe Winner for Best Foreign Film, 2005), The Lemon Tree (2008), Pomegranates and Myrrh (2008), The Attack (2012).
Guy El Hanan as Eyal
Guy is an Israeli radio personality and an accomplished playwright and recent graduate of the Jaque Le Coq acting school in Paris, France.
Haale Gafori as Azzadeh
Haale is a musican from Brooklyn New York and the author of the original poetry featured in Mars At Sunrise.
Maisam Masri as Jibril