‘People think there are three options; peace, war, or status quo. Real leaders know there are only two options – peace or war.’ – Uri Savir, Peace Negotiator
Richard Symon’s new document series, The Price of Kings, follows 12 prominent world leaders through their journey and reveals what these political icons have sacrificed for the cause they believe in. Symon’s first film, released in the UK on the 5th of March 2012, launches the series with the story of one of the Middle East’s most controversial rulers: Yasser Arafat. Shining a positive light on the well-known politician, the film portrays Arafat’s struggle as Palestine’s leader during a time when Palestinians were virtually invisible to the rest of the world.
Uri Avnery, an Isaeli Mounted Commando in 1948, in being interviewed for the film, couldn’t have said it better, ‘Before Arafat, Palestinians didn’t exist.’
The film strays away from telling the story of the complex Middle Eastern conflict and instead, Symon focuses the plot how one leader dealt with the frustrating circumstances he was faced with. It tells the story of the other side of the conflict, the one we don’t often hear: the story of one man’s personal sacrifice his people, the story of Arafat, whose passion and patriotism found himself at the centre of the aftermath of the 1947 Palestinian partition.
Skillfully editing a massive amount of controversial Middle East history into smaller memoirs of digestible information, Symon tells Arafat’s story in a way that has never been told before, making it a personal documentation of the leader’s journey through the words of his family, friends and enemies. Most people associate Yasser Arafat with being a terrorist and a corrupt politician, but Symon is successful in leading the audience towards a new image of this man who lived and died for the Palestinian people.
Some of the more touching moments in the film come from Arafat’s wife, Soha. Her words of praise reveal a story of Yasser Arafat, not only as a leader, but as a human. It’s through his wife that we learn of the true “price of kings” and what it takes to be a good leader.
Soha smiles as she says, ‘He married me and he had a daughter, but he was married to the cause. I was a friend of the cause.’ She goes on to tell heartbreaking stories of their baby girl coming under threat on the very first day of her life and Arafat being unable to walk his daughter down the isle years later as he continued to fight Palestine’s battle. It is through Soha that we realise how much Arafat gave up for his people.
Unfortunately, we could only hear Arafat’s response through the archived video recordings. However, these are enough to convince watchers that songs of praise for Arafat sung by his family and friends were in fact truthful accounts of his personality. Arafat speaks with a calm smile on his face, remaining positive and high-spirited in each of the recordings. He shows obvious signs of a freedom fighter who never lost hope no matter how dark things got. The Palestinian leader’s confidence is overwhelmingly enigmatic and will soon have you captivated by his passion for the cause.
‘Peace is not only signing agreements,’ Arafat says matter-of-factly in one of the archived recordings. ‘Peace is creating facts and realities on the ground.’
Minimal attempts are made by the filmmakers to dig out information on the corruption accusations towards Arafat or the conspiracy theories behind his death, allowing Soha and other close friends of the leader to tell the story as they remember it. Their emotional words talk of a man who put his people before everything else, and someone who was patient enough to regain hope, despite all the dead ends he hit along the way.
For anyone who has ever questioned Yasser Arafat’s motives, this is a documentary for you. Insights from close family and friends make it a refreshingly non-political film about a political leader. Symon and Spirit Level Film do an inspiring job at putting together just the right information to leave you with answers to most of your questions about this extremely controversial ruler.
Arafat was an accused terrorist to some and a honourable freedom fighter to others. The Price of Kings handles this balance with care and effectively paints a vibrant obituary for a great man, telling his story with sensitivity and straightforwardness. We are left with a memory of an extremely charismatic and prominent leader who never backed down, right until the very end. Whether or not you agree with Arafat’s policies or actions, Symon’s Price of Kings film will make you realise that this was a man of true devotion and inner strength, a man who – if he were here today – might have been able to shape the history of the Middle East to produce a very different outcome.