20 Arab Films Spotlighting Palestinian Stories & Struggles
In solidarity with Palestine, we’ve compiled a list of 20 films that fearlessly tell the tale of struggle and resilience.
As the world witnesses the ongoing violence and crimes unfolding in Occupied Palestine, the narratives often intertwine, while western propagandist myths tend to obscure the perspectives of those most affected. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to amplify Palestinian voices.
For decades, Palestinian and Arab artists have managed to tell their stories in spite of occupation and war. While Palestinian artists and visionaries have historically faced persecution and execution, from Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani to cartoonist Naji Al Ali and poet Dareen Tatour, their stories endure. Their art, while weaponized and banned, endures.
In solidarity with Palestine, we have compiled a list of 20 films that shine a spotlight on, and fearlessly tell the tale of, struggle and resilience.
The Dupes (Al Makhdo'un)
Tewfik Saleh - 1972
Set during the aftermath of the 1948 war on Palestine, the film follows three generations of refugees who embark on a perilous journey from Palestine to Kuwait, hoping to find a better life and reclaim their lost dignity. The film is based on Palestinian author Gassan Kanafani’s 1963 novel ‘Men in the Sun’.Fertile Memory
Michel Khleifi - 1981
Fertile Memory is the feature debut of pioneering director Michel Khleifi. This documentary-style film explores the daily lives of two Palestinian women living under Israeli occupation, inviting us to witness their experiences, struggles and aspirations, while offering a poignant portrayal of the Palestinian condition.Nagi El-Ali
Atef El-Tayeb - 1991
‘Nagi El-Ali’ is a biographical film about the late Palestinian cartoonist, Nagi El-Ali, who was assassinated in London in 1987. Through a series of flashbacks, the film recounts the important moments that shaped El-Ali's life and his evolution as an artist, from his family’s displacement to Lebanon, his work in Kuwait, and his return to Lebanon during the tumultuous Lebanese Civil War.Jenin, Jenin
Mohammed Bakri - 2002
‘Jenin, Jenin’ is a docu-film covering the Israeli military operations in the Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifada.
Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Bakri, who had experienced the violence firsthand during a nonviolent demonstration, was inspired to enter Jenin with a camera and document the testimonies of the residents. The resulting documentary, 'Jenin, Jenin', combines interviews and personal accounts to depict the devastating consequences of the occupation on the Palestinian population.
In the last days of filming, the film’s executive producer, Iyad Tahar Samoudi, was murdered by the occupation forces.Bab El Shams
Yousry Nasrallah - 2005
Directed and written by renowned Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah, the film follows the story of a Palestinian family who fled to a refugee camp in Lebanon. Filmed in Syria, Lebanon and France, the film features a cast of famous actors including Bassel Khayyat, Hiam Abbass, Fadi Abi Samra, Hussein Abou Seada, Fady Abou-Samra, Darina Al Joundi and Beatrice Dalle.
The film is an adaptation of award winning Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury’s novel of the same name. Paradise Now
Hany Abu-Assad - 2006
'Paradise Now' is a 2005 psychological drama film directed by Palestinian-Dutch filmmaker, Hany Abu-Assad, focusing on the preparations of two Palestinian friends, Said and Khaled, for a suicide attack in an Israeli settlement. The film received critical acclaim, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and earning an Academy Award nomination in the same category.
Abu-Assad and co-writer Bero Beyer began working on the script in 1999, but it took them five years to bring the story to life on screen.
The filmmakers faced significant challenges while shooting on location. A landmine detonated just 300 metres away from the set. In Nablus, Israeli helicopter gunships launched a missile attack near the filming site, causing six crew members to suspend production indefinitely. Available on Youtube and Netflix.
Tell Your Tale, Little Bird
Arab Loutfi - 2007
‘Tell Your Tale, Little Bird’ is a thought-provoking documentary directed by Lebanese-Egyptian journalist Arab Loutfi. The film brings together seven fedaiyat, from the revolutionary generation, who share their personal stories, intertwining them with the broader narrative of Palestinian resistance.
Through extensive interviews with these leaders of the armed struggle - Leila Khaled, Therese Halasa, Aisha Odeh, Rashida Obeida, Rasmea Odeh, Widad Qamari, and Amina Dahbour - the film captures their accounts, showcasing a portrayal of confident, unapologetic, and proud feminine identities. The memories shared by these women collectively depict the dreams of a generation that have yet to be fully realised.
The film highlights that while the oral tradition carries the recollections of past resistance, it is through the act of retelling and preserving women's stories that the political movement continues to persist.Salt of this Sea
Annemarie Jacir - 2008
'Salt of this Sea' is a Palestinian film that revolves around Soraya, portrayed by Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad. Soraya embarks on a journey to Israel and Palestine with the intention of reclaiming her family's home and the money that was taken from them during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The story delves into her personal quest for justice and the complexities she encounters along the way.
Notably, 'Salt of this Sea' also features the debut performance of now-renowned actor Saleh Bakri, whose presence adds depth and authenticity to the narrative.
The movie received recognition as an Official Selection at the Cannes International Film Festival in the same year. It was also chosen as Palestine's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards.
Available on Netflix.
The Time That Remains
Elia Suleiman - 2009
'The Time That Remains' is a poignant semi-biographical drama film released in 2009, written and directed by Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman. The movie features a talented cast including Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman himself, Saleh Bakri, and Samar Qudha Tanus. It offers a unique account of the creation of the apartheid state, spanning from 1948 to 2009.
Suleiman's work was recognised and showcased at prestigious events such as the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the film competed in the official selection category.5 Broken Cameras
Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi - 2011
'5 Broken Cameras' is a powerful documentary film co-directed by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi. The documentary offers a firsthand account of the protests taking place in Bil'in, a West Bank village affected by the occupation's West Bank barrier. Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer, serves as the primary cameraperson, capturing the events with the five cameras he owns. The film chronicles the village's resistance and the impact of the barrier on the lives of its residents over a span of five years.
As the destruction of Burnat's cameras becomes a recurring theme throughout the documentary, the collaboration between Burnat and Davidi provides an intimate and evolving portrayal of one family's experiences amidst the turmoil. Their joint efforts shed light on the personal and collective struggles faced by the people of Bil'in.
'5 Broken Cameras' garnered critical acclaim and received numerous accolades, the most notable of which is winning the 2013 International Emmy Award and receiving a nomination for the 2013 Academy Awards.
Kingdom of Ants
Chawki Mejri - 2012
‘Kingdom of Ants’ revolves around the Palestinian issue and celebrates the spirit of resistance. It presents a unique aesthetic and portrays the challenges faced by Palestinians, highlighting their resilience and determination to resist despite bombings, home demolitions, and the separation wall erected by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The story of 'Kingdom of Ants' unfolds within a realistic framework intertwined with fantasy and historical facts. It follows the journey of Jalila (played by Saba Mubarak) and Tariq (played by Mundhir Rayhana), a couple who have endured 12 years of oppression under the Israeli occupation due to their involvement in the resistance. Both have experienced imprisonment, torture, and the loss of their 11-year-old son, who was killed by a direct bullet while throwing stones at Israeli armoured vehicles in Jerusalem.
A World Not Ours
Mahdi Fleifel - 2012
'A World Not Ours', a title borrowed from Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani's novel of the same name, is a compelling and emotionally charged documentary that chronicles the multi-generational experience of a Palestinian family living as permanent refugees. Director Mahdi Fleifel shares his personal journey, having grown up in the Ain el-Helweh (Sweet Spring) refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Originally established in 1948 to provide temporary shelter for displaced Palestinians, the camp has evolved into a home for 70,000 individuals and has become an ancestral hometown for generations.
Fleifel's recollections of his childhood, depicted in the film, evoke surprising warmth and humour, underscoring the resilience of the community. However, as he returns to the camp each year, he witnesses the deepening desperation faced by his family and friends, trapped in a state of psychological and political limbo.
Available on Netflix.
Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette - 2013
'Inch'Allah' is a Canadian drama film centred around Chloé (Evelyne Brochu), a Canadian medical doctor working with the Red Crescent.
Splitting her time between her clinic in Ramallah, West Bank, and her home in Jerusalem, Chloé grapples with conflicting loyalties as she witnesses the impact of the Israeli occupation on her friends, colleagues and patients on both sides of the border.
Hany Abu-Assad - 2013
'Omar' is a 2013 Palestinian drama film directed by Hany Abu-Assad. It received critical acclaim and accolades at international film festivals, including the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.
The story follows Omar, a Palestinian baker, who frequently crosses the West Bank barrier to visit his lover. When he and his friends engage in a violent act against Israeli soldiers, Omar is captured and coerced into betraying his comrades. The film explores themes of love, loyalty, and the moral dilemmas faced under occupation.
Available on Netflix.
Mars at Sunrise
Jessica Habie - 2013
'Mars at Sunrise' is a compelling film that explores the clash between two artists from different backgrounds.
The story revolves around a Palestinian artist who shares with a Jewish-American poet the harrowing experience of being tortured by a failed Israeli artist who sought to coerce him into becoming an informant.
The film portrays a war fought on the battleground of imagination, highlighting the indomitable spirit and unwavering courage of the painter. Set against the backdrop of Israel's militarised borders, this highly stylised narrative delves into the resilience of Palestinian artists and their refusal to be confined, even in the face of adversity.
Available on Netflix.
When I Saw You
Annemarie Jacir - 2013
'When I Saw You' is the second feature film from Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir. Set during the aftermath of the 1967 war, the movie explores the experiences of Palestinian refugees displaced into Jordan and their struggles with statelessness.
The story revolves around 11-year-old Tarek and his mother Ghaydaa, who find themselves in a refugee camp separated from Tarek's father and yearning for his return. Trapped in an emotionally suspended state, their lives are on hold in this bleak environment. Tarek, feeling out of place in the makeshift school, runs away and discovers a guerrilla training camp, where he finds a sense of belonging and envisions himself as a fighter.
In this new camp, Tarek flourishes in ways he never did before. However, his newfound growth is interrupted when his mother tracks him down.
Born in Gaza
Hernán Zin - 2014
'Born in Gaza' is a Spanish film that offers an intimate exploration into the transformative impact of violence on the lives of ten children.
The film delves into the human consequences of apartheid, providing a deeply empathetic perspective. Through observational footage and interviews, filmmaker Hernán Zin goes beyond news coverage, allowing the children's voices to be heard. In doing so, the film fosters dialogue and healing, shedding light on the complexities of their situation and their enduring hopes for a better future.
Available on Netflix.
It Must Be Heaven
Elia Suleiman - 2019
Elia Suleiman, the renowned Palestinian director, released 'It Must Be Heaven' after a decade of silence. In line with his previous works like 'Divine Intervention' and 'The Time That Remains,' Suleiman assumes the role of a man bearing witness to the absurdities of the world around him.
In the film, Suleiman's journey expands beyond Palestine, taking him to Paris and New York as he embarks on a quest for funding for a film that is deemed 'not Palestinian enough'.
Available on Netflix.
Ameen Nayfeh - 2020
Set in the Palestinian city of Tulkarm, '200 Meters' revolves around a family tragically separated by the imposing Israeli wall. The story follows the father's relentless efforts to overcome the physical and emotional barriers in order to reach his son residing on the other side. The film delves into themes of resilience, determination, and the unwavering bonds of familial love.
The film was the feature-length debut of writer and director Ameen Nayfeh. The movie premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival in the esteemed Giornate degli Autori section on September 9th, 2020, where it received the BNL People's Choice Audience Award.
Available on Netflix.
Farah Nabulsi - 2020
'The Present' is a short film directed by Farah Nabulsi and co-written by Nabulsi and Hind Shoufani. Set in the Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the film follows a father and daughter as they embark on a quest to find a meaningful wedding anniversary gift. Despite the challenges posed by their surroundings, the duo navigates through the complex landscape with resilience and determination.
Led by Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film, recognising its powerful storytelling and impactful performances. Additionally, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2021.
Available on Netflix.
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