Filmmaker Spotlight:
‘Libya: The Last Exodus’ filmmaker Ruggero Gabbai

Leading up to the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival, we asked our filmmakers a few questions about their featured films.
In this edition, Director Ruggero Gabbai discusses Libya: The Last Exodus.

What inspired you to tell the story of your subject or the story depicted in your film?

51 years after the exodus of the Libyan Jews, it was important to give back to the Italian and the Jewish history a story that was not very well known and sometimes forgotten.

Together with the co-author of the film, David Meghnagi, we strongly believed that it was necessary for the Italian culture to come to terms with the history of the Libyan Jews. Italy conquered Libya at the beginning of the 20th century and, during the fascist period, there was a great prosperity. The focus of the film is on the life of the Jews of Tripoli that are the paradigm of the evolution of the history of the country. Just before the Second World War, one out of four citizens of Tripoli was Jewish. The Jews represented a combination between the Middle East Arab culture and the Western culture that colonized Libya. That is why the community has such relevance in understanding the culture, the economy, and the geopolitical issues in the region.

For us, it was very important to have testimonies who were still able to recall the events of the community. Indeed, this is the latest exodus of the Jewish people and we still have witnesses –who were children at the time – that fully recall their experiences of events that are only 50 years old.


Dir. Ruggero Gabbai

What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film? 

The main obstacle was the fact that it was not possible to shoot on location for security reasons. That is why our team did a great deal of work in searching for historical footage in Istituto Luce and other institutions, and museums such as Or Yehuda and Or Shalom center. The same thing was done for the research of images of the time that were collected from private archives.


What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?

Fist of all, I want them to discover this side of  Jewish history, and then the idea that even in the darkest hours of our life we can always find the strength to remain human and to rebuild a new life elsewhere.


Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?

As a former Georgetown student, I have a special connection with DC, it is the capital of the country where many Ambassadors live and Libya, The Last Exodus is a historical and political film that deals with international issues.


What films or filmmakers have been the most influential to you?

I had the great honor to study at Columbia University with teachers such as Milos Forman and Emir Kusturica. Other great influences were Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Almodovar, and Iñárritu. Of course, I focused on documentaries and the work of Herzog and Jean Rouch and all the cinéma verité.


Still of Libya: The Last Exodus

Why are Jewish-interest films important today?

Jewish-interest films are important because Jewish history has been a great and troublesome one at the same time. I believe that the most Jewish way of communicating since the time of Torah is storytelling. By telling a story, we empathize with the people of the story, we learn lessons, and we feel that humanity has the possibility of redeeming itself. To me, the idea of approaching the Shoah as a main theme of some of my movies such as Memoria and The Longest Journey, was a necessity in order to preserve the direct witnessing of the survivors. I believe that we risk the sanctification or the reclusion of the Shoah in a museum. I believe that films and witnessing is the only way to preserve our history in a non-rhetorical fashion. Jews didn’t have an iconographic tradition but it is interesting that contemporary art has so many Jewish filmmakers, photographers, and artists in general that show that the essence of art is communication and images without thoughts are inconsistent with the Jewish tradition.

Watch Libya: The Last Exodus during the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival.

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