2016 Golden Palm Winner

The Beverly Hills Film Festival in proud to highlight its 2016 Golden Palm Winner: IRREFUTABLE PROOF. The film by one of the BHFF’s very own award-winning alumni, Ziad Hamzeh, was the recipient of the prestigious 2016 Golden Palm Award presented during the Awards Night Ceremony on the final evening of the 2016 festival.

IRREFUTABLE PROOF is a powerful, unrelenting tale of good versus evil. Laced with unpredictable twists and turns, the characters inhabit a world filled with mystery, triumph and, ultimately tragedy.

Award-winning filmmaker, director, producer, writer, and educator, Ziad Hamzeh, describes his decision-making approach in the many processes of creating IRREFUTABLE PROOF:

Our heroine, Jeanine Markham, is a truth-seeker, and hers is a struggle as old as human consciousness. The 19th-century poet, Matthew Arnold, who likened the retreat of religious faith in the face of scientific progress to the ebbing ocean tide, claimed to detect a “note of sadness” in its “melancholy, a long, withdrawing roar.” He confessed to his own sorrow in doubting that science would ever find “in the laws of Nature a plan prepared by a concerned Creator in which human beings played some special role.”

For Jeanine’s husband, Noel, and many people, faced with her irrefutable proof that we’re alone in the universe, that no deity hears or answers our prayers nor punishes our sins, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we face certain annihilation in death, and that our sufferings, indeed our lives and loves are ultimately pointless — all of this and more is utterly unimaginable and tragic.

To reject religion does not merely entail coming to grips with our finitude without comforting illusions. It also involves the denial of something noble. Paraphrasing Arnold, it is perfectly fitting for an atheist to lament her lack of belief in a God who bestows metaphysical meaning on the full range of human desires and experiences. And Jeanine ponders the prospect of a world without religion, i.e. the empty shell of the church, with “awkward reverence” for religion is, finally, “a serious house on serious earth.” And its seriousness flows from its capacity to serve as a place — perhaps the only place on earth — where “all our compulsions meet, are recognized, and robed as destinies.”

It is a striking image, capturing at once the dignified beauty of religious ritual and its capacity to conceal the truth under a layer of intricate artifice. The whole point of the liturgy performed at the church altar is to seduce us with the beautiful and supremely fulfilling illusion that our worldly compulsions have cosmological meaning and significance. This longing for our most precious hopes to connect with the order that governs the universe “never can be obsolete”. Which means that this aspect of religion, at least, may very well be too deeply rooted in the human soul ever to be completely purged.

Throughout IRREFUTABLE PROOF, we encounter opposing forces struggling to win the ultimate argument. And the question deep in its pages is this: How important is it for science to win and faith to lose? Would we be better off knowing that there is nothing out there waiting for us on the other side? Ultimately, Jeanine discovers that she is like flowers tossed in the wind. She tumbles and bends to its power because of her vulnerability, which is directly derived from her lack of certainty. Here, IRREFUTABLE PROOF presents a dramatic slice of what could be waiting for us in the winds of time as we march forward towards our final destination.

As a filmmaker, I had to find the common purpose that unifies all of us within the tapestry of this story. Analytically, the tale has to become a shared experience between the character and the audience similar to the idea of ARTUE’S that we are all connected despite the differences in some fundamental way.

In its heart, Irrefutable Proof is a tale that resides in the every human psyche. We have all questioned our life’s purpose. We have all thought about the existence of a higher being. Sometimes feeling that we are alone in this universe. That no one is out there to guide us. It is a terrifying feeling that we tend to push it deep into our thoughts as to allow us to function and create meaning of the otherwise meaningless life. But what if someone can prove that there’s really no God out there, that we really are alone. How might that impact our lives? Is it better to live in denial of such truth or to face the consequence? These thought provoking questions needed to be explored in a way that does not belittle anyone’s belief nor does it remove the possibilities of greater being. It merely brings back that thought they buried deep in their mind to front and center.

One of the major elements that drew me to the story was the challenge to utilize various genres under one umbrella seamlessly, allowing the characters to walk through this journey without preaching. The original script was written in a style that combined the absurd mode of Samuel Beckett with the traditional straight drama more suited for a stage play. The dialogue was un-natural and awkward and the plot did not seem plausible. It desperately needed to be grounded and be given a unified thought and an approach that would justify the dialogue and the the story elements to make them more effective and purposeful.

One spark of light came when I decided to collide time and unhinge it from the traditional expectations. What If I were to tell the story from the end and create a cyclical approach? As we seem to advance forward, we move truly backward to the beginning. But such a complex style needed a strong vehicle to ground it properly so that the audience would be able to have some familiar path to the story while watching and experiencing something new. Therefore, I decided to rely on the Aristotelian concept to create unity of thought, unity of time and place, and unity of action. In doing so, I needed a mechanism to allow me such unity, thus the idea of the crash scene was introduced into the film. Unity of time and place was helped greatly by using the crash sequence and allowing the rescue of the victims to be the real story laced through out the 24 hour the film takes to unfold. Unity of thought was strengthened by the fact that all of the events other than the crash are her subconscious thoughts as she struggles to passionately deliver her message. Both helped greatly the unity of action as the subplot rides above the main plot, which rarely happens in films, but this allowed me to lessen from the pretentious approach of knowing all the answers and making it a religious preachy film. This approach gave me a firm container to swim within while maintaining consistency and still raise the thought provoking conversation in our audience.

Since I was working with a particular feeling for the film, I utilized the help of many other elements to contribute to such a forced style for the film. With the immeasurable help of DP, Rob Draper, we were able to craft a consistent look for the film that would serve as visual poetry, contributing greatly to the mood and feeling of the story. We used familiar references from great painters to subconsciously infuse the film with such references, subtly allowing the audiences’ subconscious to react to them rather than pushing an intellectual point. The same way the character lived through her ordeal via her subconscious, so did the audiences without them knowing that we balanced the visual part perfectly with other aspects to maintain them straddling both worlds.

The music for the film had to contribute to a much deeper level of our struggles to find purpose. It needed to transfer the audience on a soulful journey that inspired emotional reactions. Using the deep voice of a woman in a trance brought an effective sound to fight against the archaic dialogue and keep the audience connected on an emotional level rather than hearing just words.