The Green Prince, a documentary based on Mosab Hassan Yousef’s bestselling memoir Son of Hamas (Tyndale, 2010), opens in New York and Los Angeles September 12, followed by a nationwide roll out. The film won the Audience Award in the World Cinema: Documentary category when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Directed by Nadav Schirman and produced by the Academy Award-winning team of John Battsek and Simon Chinn (Man on a Wire; Searching for Sugar Man), The Green Prince is being distributed by Music Box Films. It was shot in Israel, Palestine, Germany, and Los Angeles.
The film and the book tell the story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a Hamas leader who became an operative for the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency. In the 1990s, while in prison for his activities against Israel, Yousef witnessed Hamas’s operations first hand, and he began to find their methods, especially suicide bombings, increasingly abhorrent. “Seeing the deaths of so many children, the cycle of violence, I came to question my own truth” and to see both sides of the conflict, he told PW.
Recruited by the Shin Bet, Yousef--code named "Green Prince"--spied on Hamas leaders for more than a decade. Along with the risk of exposure and death, Yousef struggled with his divided loyalties. “The two sides have such distorted images of each other—people are living in delusion,” he said. He and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, became friends; Yitzhak also is featured in the film. Despite alienating his family and being accused of betraying his people, Yousef does not regret his choice to work with the Israelis to try to stop the suicide bombings, though the outcome was not what he hoped. “I was doing impossible missions, trying to prevent [the bombings],” he said. “But we failed—we were fighting a ghost.”
In 2008, unable to continue his “double, triple life in the fight,” he said, Yousef left on vacation to the U.S. and never went back. “When what I had done became known, my father publicly disowned me, even on television.” He wrote Son of Hamas because “there was nothing left to hide. I had to tell the truth about myself.” The book spent four weeks on the New York Times extended nonfiction list; Tyndale cites 90,000 copies in print in hardcover and 50,000 in paperback.
Agreeing to the documentary was an extension of that truth telling, Yousef said. “The book made me unmask, so why not? And how many in the Middle East read? I liked that we were going to make a picture, that it might be seen by more people.”
Although he has been contacted by CNN and other media outlets to appear and comment on the escalation between Israel and Hamas, Yousef said he has refused. “I have no words right now,” he said. [However, just before press time, PW received word of a possible appearance on CNN on July 23.] He currently is working on a script about the life of Muhammad. “Islam forbids the [visual] portrayal of him, so this has to be handled very delicately. There are many films about God and Jesus; I think there should be one about Muhammad too.” Isn’t he afraid of the reactions to such a film? “Sometimes I look over my shoulder, but that’s not how I live.”
A publicity tour featuring Yousef and The Green Prince director Nadav Schirman begins in San Francisco July 24 with an invitation-only screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, followed by two days of press events. Two other invitation-only screenings will be held in Los Angeles on July 27 and 28; more are planned for September 3- 12 in Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, and L.A.
Tyndale senior marketing director Nancy Clausen said that “the book is mentioned prominently in the film,” and Tyndale plans to promote Son of Hamas with a social media campaign, a blog tour, e-book promotion, and publicity. Existing stock of the paperback edition will be stickered to promote the film, and Clausen said Tyndale will ramp up its promotional budget if the movie does well. “The book is mentioned on the movie poster, and we’re in close contact with the filmmakers and distributors to cross promote.”