The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat at the Frontline Club

By Tom Lowe

The hugely important figure Yasser Arafat casts a long shadow over Middle Eastern politics even years after his death.  Yasser Arafat takes a long hard look at Arafat himself as seen through the eyes of prominent people that knew him well. Yasser Arafat is one episode of a series being produced by Spirit Level Films, part of a 12 part series on stand-out leaders called ‘The Price of Kings’

Arafat was important – certainly – but controversial too. Did the documentary team try to portray the former Palestinian leader in a sympathetic light?

“I don’t think so,” says director Richard Symons. “We just chose to portray him in a human light – as a leader.”

“The way we showed him… and I hope the way we showed everyone in the series, is through the prism of leadership… we try and find situations where he’s had to make tough decisions as a leader.”

An array of comments came from the audience members. One in particular recounted meeting Arafat. 

George spent a night with the man in Lebanon – exactly where he still isn’t sure – in the company of the Guardian’s David Astor. Arafat’s inner circle was there in the house. After they had left, Astor turned and said ‘You know George, he reminded me of Christ’. A comment made by Sufa, Arafat’s wife,  in the film reminded him of this evening. 

Producer Joanna Natasegara spoke to me after Q&A session. The challenges in making the film, she says, were many.

“Trying to secure interviewees that were mid-peace process at the time.” And: “Trying to ascertain balance in such a contentious character … I know that we allowed people to speak their own truths about somebody that they knew very well. That was key to us – to speak to people that knew Arafat closely, and particularly in key decision moments in his life.”

An audience member inquired about why the documentary spends little time on Arafat’s younger days.

“I think that reflects the man himself. I think he was many things to many people… He was what you wanted him to be and that was his skill.”

“And so finding ‘the truth’ about his childhood and who he was really didn’t matter. It wasn’t important to who he was. It was how he interacted with the people that he met – and every Palestinian has a photo of Arafat on their wall.”

A final question for Director Richard Symons: What of the current Palestinian leadership? Are the ‘Western media’ right to criticise ‘weak’ Palestinian leaders?

“I think for the Palestinian resistance to be successful, Israel needs a better leader”