In 2002, over a decade after he was first diagnosed with an incurable form of leukaemia, Palestinian literary critic Edward Said agreed to be interviewed by filmmaker Mike Dibb. Talking about his upbringing, his books, his commitment to the Palestinian cause, and his well-publicised falling out with Yassar Arafat, Said transforms this no-frills talking head doc into a fascinating record of his achievement and continuing influence. With his death in September 2003 at the age of 67, it turned out to be his final interview.
"THE AL PACINO OF THE ACADEMIC WORLD"
Laid low by leukaemia, Said makes a fascinating if rather severe interviewee. Not even his sunken, jaundiced look can detract from his charisma as his grey beard, immaculate coiffure, and forceful personality suggest the self-confident air of a movie star: the Al Pacino of the academic world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's little sense that he regards this interview as his epitaph as he discusses his groundbreaking academic work (his 1978 book Orientalism remains a seminal text on university campuses around the world) and its impact on literary and cultural studies, while looking ahead to his future projects.
Where the film really comes alive, though, is in his discussion of his non-academic role and his forays into the torturous world of Middle East politics. Discussing his disenchantment with the PLO ("Yassar Arafat taught Palestinians how to lie") and the disastrous effects of the Israeli occupation, his conversation comes with an intellectual rigour that refuses to deliver snappy soundbites or indulge in petty squabbling. Pinpointing the lack of an effective Palestinian leadership and the gap between the labyrinthine peace process and the ordinary lives of Palestinians on the ground, he offers a compelling insight into the machinations that drive the conflict.
A fitting tribute to Said's life and work, this final interview reminds us that we need articulate, authoritative and refreshingly flexible voices like Said's to speak out on both sides of the conflict if it is ever going to be resolved.