Suzanne Baum talks to award-winning film producer Simon Chinn about his latest film, The Green Prince
With two Oscars under his belt, Simon Chinn knows the secret to making a good documentary. Hard-work and tenacity goes without saying, but he points out it is the “ability to tell a good story that is absolutely vital.”
And there is no better example of this than his latest film The Green Prince, based on Son of Hamas– the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef who worked undercover for Israel’s Shin Bet. If early reviews of this true-life story have anything to go by, it seems very likely another golden statuette will be heading Chinn’s way.
However, despite his huge success-Chinn won an Oscar for his documentaries Man on a Wire in 2009 and Searching for Sugar Man in 2013-the 45-year-old remains very level-headed about this becoming a reality.
“The film industry is a very difficult one to work in; it’s endlessly exhausting but fascinating. You don’t expect to receive an Oscar, never mind two, so I’m very open-minded about this film being Oscar-worthy.
“I suppose I have to wait and see how it is received.”
The film- that follows the story of Palestinian spy Yousef and his Israeli handler Gonan Ben Yitzhak- is a very sensitive one and this is what appealed to Chinn, who lives in Tufnell Park. He believed the unlikely friendship struck up between these two men-who play themselves in the film – would make it a human interest story, rather than a political one.
“When I first met with director Nadav Schribman to discuss his idea for the film he suggested I read The Book of Hamas to understand the story,” said Chinn. “Schribman was very passionate about the book and although I wasn’t very keen to stray into this Middle Eastern territory, for fear of it being viewed as a political story, I agreed as I found the story absolutely fascinating.”
Chinn, the son of Sir Trevor and Lady Susan, still remains concerned about the film being perceived as a political story, for fear of offending anyone.
“It is obviously a very timely story to be showing in the weeks following the recent Gaza conflict but I knew that was the risk I was taking on agreeing to do the film, says Chinn. “I was aware there will always be unrest in the Middle East so there probably was never going to be an ideal time to showcase this film. Obviously the Israeli and Palestinian issue is very much alive again.”
Having won the world documentary audience award at the Sundance festival-one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States-The Green Prince was also met with a standing ovation when it was premiered in Israel over the summer.
“After the film I got such amazing feedback,” said Chinn. “However, the Israel-Palestine story will always appeal to a Jewish audience so now I just have to hope others will come and watch it too.”
The actors in the film are the men themselves and much of the story follows Yousef and Yitzhak in studio-type interviews alongside illustrative footage that accompanies their stories; some of it archival photos and videos. It also features Yousef’s re-enactments of his own interrogations by the Shin Bet, as well as period television footage showing him with his father at public rallies and private meetings.
“We spent a lot of time filming the two men in Munich where the majority of the interviews take place but there are also scenes we filmed in Israel,” added Chinn. “I felt honoured and excited to be working alongside these two men and watch their story unfold,” said Chinn-who explained the film’s title The Green Prince is named after the code name given to Yousef.
“For me, what stands out about this film is that it tells the story of relationships put under a great deal of pressure.
“As well as a human story it could be viewed as a spy thriller as it follows the mechanics of spying. It could have happened anywhere, any two conflicting cultures. What’s interesting is this relationship here, this friendship that exists, because they took a risk. They took a risk to trust one another. It was a great risk to take.”
It’s not surprising that this incredibly moving story has been turned into a film and it seems that Chinn is no doubt the right man for the job. He may be someone who sheds the limelight but I think he should find time in his busy work schedule to start writing another acceptance speech!
The Green Prince-that is due to be released in the UK on 12 December- will be screened tonight as part of the Jewish film festival at the Curzon Mayfair. It will also be shown on 15, 19 and 23 Nov at the JW3.