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Thank you for reviewing David & Layla, which I wrote and directed. Tricia Olszewski’s review (8/10) contained a regrettable, shocking error: the denial of Halabja gas genocide by Saddam. Her sarcastic review concludes: “David & Layla is truly funny only when it tries to get political, however, whether it’s the couple’s forced, petulant arguments over troubles in the Middle East or footage of the bloodied victims of Saddam’s reign—with dolls, so clearly lifeless and plastic, standing in for actual children.”
The footage is of real children, as every responsible media outlet in the world would acknowledge. This footage is properly credited onscreen in the ending credit roll of the film.
Imagine the outrage, then immediate retraction and subsequent outpour of apologies if someone denied the pictures of Holocaust victims (or Israeli or Palestinian or Armenian war victims) as lifeless, plastic dummies.
I wish Ms. Olszewski were among the university audience (students, professors, and friends) at a screening at Ann Arbor’s Michigan art house cinema, followed by a lively 40-minute Q&A.
I wish she had seen the film at over 20 international festivals, including two from Israel. I wish she had seen the film with mixed crowds—including Jewish, Israeli, and Muslim audiences—in Florida or Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.
Then, she would have witnessed how much David & Layla is enjoyed, appreciated, and embraced by people of all races and religions, young and old, including Jewish and Middle Easterners.
It is normal for any film (or any art) to receive mixed or negative reviews, especially for this first film of a sensitive Jewish-Muslim romantic comedy.
But to date, most reviews are generally positive, from Variety, the principal mainstream press (the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, etc.), and the leading Jewish press—Jerusalem Post, Jewish Journal, and the Jewish Week.
Had Ms. Olszewski read my bio in the press notes or on the Internet, she would have discovered that I coached students at NYU grad film school. I am an old film buff who studied film at UCLA and advanced screenwriting at USC. I participated at AFI seminars with such masters as David Lean and the writers of such films as Casablanca and Rebel Without a Cause.
With personal tragedy, my normal mode is serious. I live in Manhattan among a few thousand books and serious art. But for this film I deliberately chose a mixed-genres treatment—to use the playful veils of romance, comedy, sex, and sensuality to carry otherwise heavy history and politics.
Why is Ms. Olszewski obsessing about a few “groin jokes” instead of dozens of poignant scenes and witty cultural-clash dialogue? Would she dare to criticize Ben Stiller’s upcoming comedy, whose short trailer is full of slapstick and groin jokes?
Cultural-clash comedies thrive on stereotypes, as in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham.
Life is often stranger than fiction: Exaggerated stereotypes do exist. Almost every scene and dialogue in David & Layla is based on reality. For instance, a Jewish man in Central Park mistaking me for a Frenchman told me “and they [Muslims] are breeding like rats!” In the film, I softened this to be more credible and funnier “and they are breeding like rabbits!” And the Jewish David Ruby whose true story inspired this film in reality changed his name on his Muslim marriage certificate to “Mohammad.” If you remember, in the film, I changed this to the funnier “Davood.”
Many serious-minded and experienced professionals worked hard for little or no money to bring about this daring, topical “love and peace” film.
The tone and almost every word of Ms. Olszewski’s review is unfair and offensive to our mixed Jewish/Muslim cast and crew. It is also insulting to all the festivals that invited this film into competition, including the Mountaintop Film Festival and the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Shiva Rose (Layla) is a human-rights activist and an Amnesty International spokesperson for refugees. She was arrested for antiwar demonstration.
Our composer, Richard Horowitz, composed for Bertolucci’s Sheltering Sky and Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Richard is married to Persian Kurd composer/singer Sussan Deyhim, whose vocals are on the film’s soundtrack.
None of these earnest professionals would have worked so hard for so little to make this film and continue to enthusiastically support it if David & Layla were even remotely as bad as your review leads your readers to believe.
New York, N.Y.