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Palestinian-American director seeks refuge in film

"I like the ability to create characters, and put them in difficult situations then see what they do"

October 26, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother in New York, award-winning film director Tariq Nasir has spent much of his life exploring issues of equality.

As a child, Nasir was made a refugee during the 1967 war, when his family had to flee Jerusalem to live in Jordan. Even as a young person, Nasir wanted to be an artist. Because of his experience of being a refugee, however, and the pressure from his family to study something more “tangible” that would help him secure a living, he opted to study business in London and pursue a career in finance.

In 2005, however, the artist within Nasir decided to retire from his position at an investment firm and study film. “I love making movies, both fiction and documentary,” Nasir told MEMO. “I like the ability to create characters, and put them in difficult situations then see what they do.”

Nasir’s first film was a feature documentary called “Belonging” which followed the story of his family fleeing Palestine. “I wanted to make a film that was a little more gentle, telling the story about my family and what happened to them, without including a lot of the graphic violence.”

“My mother…grew up at the time of the [Great] Depression, and what I thought was interesting was that in some ways my mother was an economic refugee and my father was a refugee of war, so it was a very interesting story to be able to tell together.”

Let’s All Be Free

In 2012, he founded the “Let’s All Be Free” (LABF) Festival touching on what it means to be free.

Nasir was inspired to set up the festival after listening to an excerpt by Bill Clinton on the radio one day, talking about how we should all be free.

“I thought that there was some hypocrisy in that statement,” Nasir told MEMO, “because under the Clinton administration, certainly the Palestinians got even a more raw deal that they’d had in the past, and for me it just resonated…because of my background and knowing that people can talk and use words…and not necessarily mean them, or they don’t mean all people.”

Nasir thought it was a great opportunity to think about not just Palestinians but all people in the world. “I wanted to help create a forum where people can come together to learn about each other and to learn about what it means to be free to them as an individual.”

Between 12-16 October, film lovers, filmmakers, activists, and many others gathered in London to watch 37 short films from around the world as part of the fourth annual LABF Festival. The festival screened documentaries, expressions, and fiction films across many different genres and themes from around the world, all of them exploring what it means to be free.

“I find that people are very receptive to the topic and they like to discuss it and think about it,” Nasir told MEMO. “This year, we have one filmmaker who is blind and he actually made a film about disabilities, and that’s amazing given that film is such a visual medium,” he added.

Two Palestinian films were also showcased at the festival – “The Black Friday” and “Three Minute Warning.” The Palestinian films, Nasir says, are “focused on the occupation and the oppression that is going on in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Mimi Nali, lead actress in “Three Minute Warning”

Mimi Nali, lead actress in “Three Minute Warning”

Directed by Iqbal Mohammed, “Three Minute Warning” handles Israel’s so-called roof knocking policy, in which they bomb the roof of a building to inform the residents that they have three minutes to evacuate the building before it is bombed again. The film features a 14-year-old girl called Mariam who cares for her disabled mother. One night, Israelis “knock on the roof” of their building allowing them only three minutes to escape before it is demolished.

Lead Actress, Mimi Nali, playing the role of Mariam’s mother, said the film was a humanitarian one, not intended to be either pro or anti Palestinian or Israeli. “All what we see in [the] media is just numbers,” she told MEMO. “As a mother, it was really emotional.”

One state for all in Palestine

Nasir believes that a one-state solution with equal rights for all of its citizens is the way forward to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “At this point, you have to be kind of pragmatic,” he stressed, “and my view is that having a one-state solution is what’s important because if you give everybody equal rights then I don’t think you have any problems.”

“If you look at the US, for example, when African-Americans did not have equal rights, they had problems,” he added, saying that all people want the same things; to have a safe and secure environment for them and their children, and the opportunity to be able to achieve things in their lives.

“I think it’s important for us to listen to each other’s stories,” he continued. “Listening to someone else’s story doesn’t mean you have to agree with their story, but listening to it allows them to then listen to your story, and I think when we do listen to each other then we’re in a much better place of feeling empathy and understanding and then being able to see each other as human beings…so I think film is a great way to actually achieve that.”

In the first year of the festival, an Israeli film about a father who retired was screened. “It was a great film and so I included it in the festival,” Nasir added, saying people often assume that Palestinians would not be open to hearing all kinds of stories.

“My hope is that by being able to raise awareness, tell people’s stories, we can do this in a very positive, constructive way of bringing people together to one day live together.”