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'The Green Prince' explores the human relationships behind international espionage

Red Box Films

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Fest.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcaston iTunes.

The film the Green Prince follows the unlikely journey of Mosab Hassan Yousef. Born in the Palestinian territories to a high-ranking Hamas leader, Mosab does the unthinkable: he spies on his own people for Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency.

Using candid interviews, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments, director Nadav Schirman follows Mosab’s transformation, and his complicated relationship with his Israeli handler, Gonen Ben Itzhak.

I spoke to director Nadav Schirman about his approach to making this film.

On meeting Mosab for the first time

The day I flew in to meet him I was waiting for him in the hotel lobby in New York city, where the news just came on that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated. And there was a great buzz going on through the hotel lobby -- everyone was glued to the news. Within minutes, Mosab walked in and asked if I'd heard the news. Within minutes of meeting the son of a Hamas leader, I was in a cab with him going to Ground Zero -- twelve years before, he might as well have cheered for Osama bin Laden. So the transformation was so great, and his need to belong was so great. This nailed it for me and I really felt that I had to tell the story.

On the relationship between and handler and an agent

[When two people] are interested in each other romantically, the first thing they're going to do is share secrets about themselves, so they in fact trust the other person with their secrets. And that bond of trust creates a proximity which ultimately leads to love. When you talk to other handlers, they will all talk about their sources in terms of love. And it's interesting, because maybe sharing secrets, and what it does to a relationship, does lead to love in a way.

On the challenges of making this film

[Gonen] is usually in the chair, the person asking the questions. So he’s used to handling people and here he was being handled by me. I guess that was more of a challenge for him. With Mosab, it was really about trying to get his emotional connection to the story. He had told part of his story in his book. The film is only partially based on the book because it divulges the relationship between Mosab and Gonen, whereas the book is more Mosab’s point of view. So the challenge was to get him to tell the story from a different perspective, and to dive down into these buried emotions which are also related to the story.

Rehman Tungekar is a former producer for KBIA, who left at the beginning of 2014.