The fate of a revolution: A review of “Trip Along Exodus”

There really is no place like home, although that’s not always a good thing.

“Trip Along Exodus” is filmmaker and poet Hind Shoufani’s first feature documentary, at once an exploration of the Palestinian resistance and her own father’s personal journey.

Elias Shoufani’s trials and triumphs (mostly trials) form a path that is shaped by the history of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. It starts in 1948, when at the age of 16 Elias and his family were forced to flee their home. When he attempts to return, he is herded onto a bus along with 20 or so other young men, including his brother, driven to the border, and told that if they try to return again, they would be killed.

From that moment, Elias embraced his refugee status, brandishing it as a weapon, turning it into a symbol of his dedication to the resistance. That dedication is still there at the time of shooting, when Elias is living in a Syria still at the beginning of the war that now devastates it. The film is punctuated with calls between him and Hind, who calls in to check on his health – he’s fine, he tells her, but the city is running low on the most basic supplies. But he refuses to leave. His socialist ideals necessitates that he stay with a people fighting for their rights and their freedom in the country he has lived in for many years.

Socialism and secularism are a defining feature of Elias’s life. Of course,  the time when he became most active in the Palestinnian resistance, the 50s, was marked by a surge in the popularity of socialism throughout the Arab world. The other defining feature is travel. As a refugee, Elias goes from Syria to Jordan to Lebanon to United States (not in that order). He marries, divorces, marries again despite his best instincts, but he is driven by the cause of Palestine wherever he goes. His academic work, technically his job, is essentially a side gig to his role as political strategist to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or Fateh.

It’s when the conversation turns to Fateh specifically that you most get a sense of the passion and fire that must have driven Elias for so many decades. The moral decline of Fateh, as he would characterize it, is perhaps his greatest disappointment, more so even than the continued occupation of Palestine 70 years after he was turned out of his home. In one memorable scene, he is digging out old VHS tapes for his daughter to include in her documentary. She asks him how he expects her to get through Dubai customs with this kind of material. He responds, “Tell them Fateh is dead and these tapes are its funeral.”

“Trip Along Exodus” strikes a deft balance between the personal story of Elias and the broader story of a country’s struggle, but Elias’s emotion and passion are really the draw here. It’s easy to see why so many women found him so attractive in his youth – his personality is intense and focused. Unfortunately, this left little time for his family and children. It’s something he shies away from discussing, insisting as Hind shoots that she change the topic. “I’m sorry Baba, we made you cry,” she says when a tear escapes him.

Perhaps that is part of the reason Elias is so passionate about recounting his time with Fateh, about clarifying his position – his opposition – with regards to Yasser Arafat and the leadership of Fateh in the 1970s and 80s. He wants you to know that he saw through their selfish motives, that he stood against his destructive policies; you can hear it in his voice. Maybe he’s so insistent on this point because he wants his daughters, Hind and her younger sister, to know what he dedicated his life to, to understand why he was so absent, a fact even his siblings acknowledge. Does he have anything to show for it? His children are still refugees, along with more than 7 million Palestinians, including 5 million who are eligible for UNRWA assistance. The trip along exodus continues.

But that’s not what matters, really. If that’s the one thing you get this from this film, it’s that the ends are not as significant as the means. This was a man who lived by his principles to the very end (spoiler alert: he dies), and that is really what he leaves his daughters.

You can watch “Trip Along Exodus” on Vimeo. Seen it already? Let me know what you think!

The world of stand-up comedy with director Logan Leistikow

Meet documentary film-maker Logan Leistikow. The Los Angeles-based director has been making movies in the comedy circuit for years, and his latest documentary, “Walton,” chronicles the experience of stand-up comedian Walton Jordan.

Logan Leistikow at the American Idol Press Line.
Logan Leistikow at the American Idol Press Line. Logan was the digital producer at American Idol.

I connected with Logan via Twitter, and he was nice enough to answer some of my questions about “Walton” and his work in comedy.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into directing? What drew you to the field?
As a kid, I always wanted to do something creative when I grew up. It morphed from being a cartoonist to painter to musician, etc. I just wanted to be an artist. Eventually, the magic of movies drew me in. Star Wars and high concept productions like it made me want to be a blockbuster director. I loved the idea of making my cinematic vision come to life.
 
I actually moved out to Los Angeles with that intention. However, because I was not born into the entertainment industry, I had to find my own pathway in. It just so happens that my first big break was producing Tom Green Live, a comedic celebrity talk show. After that, I very much stayed in the lane of talk/unscripted shows and comedy, if only because that is where my resume took me.
 
I have to say, though, that I have fallen in love with making documentaries. You can capture and create real emotion, tone, and production value on a shoestring budget and with a small crew. This offers ultimate film-making freedom, as well as the adventure of unpredictability and improvisation.
What was the first thing you ever worked on? What was that experience like for you?
Well, I guess the first thing ever was my high school senior video, which was just a ripoff of jackass.
 
In college, my friends and I made some video sketches that went viral and got me featured on IFC, which was pretty cool. One of those videos was also a part of a Yahoo! contest where celebrity judge Tom Green said “These guys should have their own sketch comedy show!”
 
That eventually led to a job at Tom Green Live once I moved out to LA. Getting that gig was surreal. Having heard Tom’s compliment on the Yahoo! show, I applied to work on his talk show. He personally called me on the phone, invited me to lunch, and then showed me his studio and hired me all in the same day. It was a bit overwhelming, but it was just the beginning of my journey.
Tell me about your new documentary, Walton. How did you meet Walton Jordan? Why did you decide to do a documentary about him? And what was the experience like?
Walton is a good friend I have known for years. We met way back in 2007 at a Comedy Garage show. He’s such a sui generis guy with a magnetic personality, he belongs on stage/screen.

 

Poster for "Walter," courtesy Logan Leistikow. Now available on Amazon Prime.
Poster for “Walter,” courtesy Logan Leistikow. Now available on Amazon Prime.
I also wanted to present a homeless person who breaks the mold of what people expect. A lot of us make assumptions about the homeless. Although Walton actually indicates he IS homeless by choice, you can’t help but root for him…even if you would never do that to yourself. It humanizes the homeless.
 
Shooting the documentary with him was so fun and exciting I’m very likely to make more docs about him.
How do you approach a documentary project? Walk me through your process.
Every project comes together differently, but I always search for fascinating people who have a passion. 
 
For the Comedy Garage, I actually attended a show and said to myself “I must make a documentary about this.” It was pure inspiration. I eventually saved up enough money and favors to make it happen. We shot a three camera stand-up show, and interviews leading up to it over a long weekend.
 
Walton, on the other hand, was shot sporadically over a year in our spare time. I edited as we went and I think that really helped the pacing of the piece and told us what shots we had to get next. I also filmed a minidoc called “Trees” that I filmed by myself in one day with no concept until I hit the editing bay.
 
My advice would be to find what you are passionate about and cover that in your own way. Figure out what is logistically practical and use your creativity to make it sing. Do you have a client? Do you have backers? Do you work for a network or news organization? Are you independent? Do you know someone who can help? Everything is a factor, so there is no instruction manual. You have to be dynamic.
Your work seems focused on comedians. Is there a reason for that?
There are two main reasons for this: Comedians have a job of holding a mirror up to society and ultimately that is my goal as well. The comedians I know are the most open and honest people around and that makes for really great interviews.
 
Comedians are also the epitome of freedom of expression and tolerance. Even the squeaky cleanest stand-up comedian you know is exposed to some raunchy humor in their career, whether at open mics or when they open for another comic. They have to tolerate, appreciate, and respect different approaches to humor and different perspectives on endless subjects. The comedy scene in LA is more of a marketplace of ideas than people realize. Its also very diverse.
 
That being said, I also have productions in development that will not be about comedians.
 
What’s your advice to aspiring filmmakers looking for inspiration? What would you say to those looking for backing for their work?
 
When asking for backing, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Be ready for any question, anticipate parts of the pitch that the backer may not like, and pitch for a higher budget while having a plan for a much smaller budget ready. It helps to know your backer personally and appeal to him/her in a personal way. Maybe he/she owns a business that can have product placement in the film. Maybe he/she has a soft spot for animals, so pitch an animal related project. Your creative vision will have to adjust to reality and your planning will have to incorporate what your backer will want.
 
Again, every production comes together differently, but the bottom line is you need to impress your backer with how knowledgeable and prepared you are.
 
Also don’t be afraid to just start working even if no one will back you yet. Remember that films like “Clerks” and “Grey Gardens” had no backers and are now classics. “Walton” also had no backers.
 
As for inspiration: its everywhere. [Ask yourself:] What movie do you want to see that doesn’t exist yet?