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Film Review: Though I Know the River is Dry

Qalandia, “I hate the word,” says the protagonist as he walks through the familiar metal grille that protects the crossing between the West Bank and Jerusalem in the occupied territories. The oppressive space and the dull colour are menacing.


This scene is one of many in ‘Though I Know the River is Dry’ that suggest the main character’s memories and feelings towards Palestine are largely filled with pain and destruction. Though set in the present day, the story has archive footage edited in; a combination of both paints a picture of bombings, homes being destroyed by bulldozers, and police violence against children.

Though he has a chance to leave all of this behind him and create a new life for his son and wife in America, as a Palestinian he is also wrestling with guilt that tells him he has a responsibility to stay behind and confront the occupation. Yet it is not just his relationship with his homeland, or his identity, that are explored, but also how he relates to his family and their feelings towards his decision.

When he travels to America he will leave behind his brother, an activist who appears in one scene with bruises across his face. Maltreatment and torture are a common story for those who resist in the region: “How can you leave him, and leave us?” his mother asks. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” And “what would your father have said? “That we run from our fights now?”

There is very little dialogue in the film, but when there is it is poignant. The silences work well and compliment the long scenes and beautiful cinematography. Together they denote a dream like quality, or an exploration of memory and estrangement, that reflect the protagonist’s relationship to his homeland. 

‘Though I Know the River is Dry’ recently premiered in the UK at the Palestine Film Festival in London. It is a crowd-funded, independent short film written directed, filmed and edited by Omar Robert Hamilton. It is only around twenty minutes long, yet successfully draws attention to many layers of the complex Palestinian problem: refugees, resistance, guilt, violence and identity. This year it has already won the prix UIP in Rotterdam and been nominated for the best short film in the European film awards.

Though Hamilton was invited to submit the short to the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, he refused on the grounds that the institution offered support, in many ways, to Israel’s colonial occupation of the West Bank, adding in his reply:

“There will be screenings in cultural institutions across historical Palestine over the coming year. Unlike the Palestinians, you enjoy freedom of movement to join us at the screening of your choice. You will be welcomed. But until your festival is organized independently of the state of Israel and of institutions committed to the ethnic cleansing of what remains of Palestine, you may not have permission to screen the film.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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