In 2021, Netflix had released a collection of films called ‘Palestinian Stories’ that featured a host of award-winning feature and short films. Seen as a “bold” yet welcome move, the series was launched on October 14th, 2021, and included over 32 films from well-known Palestinian filmmakers and included stories that were essential to the Palestinian experience.
From the harsh realities of a life of a Palestinian in Israel-occupied Palestine to detailing the brutal and inhuman conditions they are subjected to in refugee camps, the stories range from tales of humiliation and death to more hopeful and inspiring ones filled with romance, love, and pride.
From Elia Suleiman and Mahdi Fleifel to Mai Masri, Nuha Al Tayeb and Ameen Nayfeh, the collection includes acclaimed works from various filmmakers who welcomed the move with warmth and gratitude. From being snubbed at the Oscars in 2002 when the Academy failed to recognise Palestine as an independent state to gaining their own platform on Netflix, it has been a daunting yet rewarding journey for the industry.
“Many people say they don’t know what’s happening, well now you have access to so many titles that are telling the story in different styles, documentaries, shorts, and feature films,” said Nayfeh. “Now people can know the truth. It’s a huge thing.”
Even Tayeb spoke up about the variety of films on the streamer. He said, “while these stories are distinctly and authentically Arab, the themes are quintessentially human, and will resonate with audiences across the world.”
Here are five best Netflix films from Palestinian filmmakers you must watch:
The 5 best Netflix films from Palestinian filmmakers
5. Ave Maria (Basil Khalil, 2015)
Earning Khalil her first-ever Academy Award nomination in 2016, this short film shows how a stranded Israeli family must seek help from five silent nuns to get back home after repairing their broken-down car. In a hilarious set of events, the group needs to come up with a bizarre plan to help the family to get to safety before the Sabbath laws.
While many have questioned the credibility of the film to be an Oscar shortlist, it is lighthearted and humorous. It somehow emphasises the importance of moving beyond one’s faith and being more empathetic and compassionate towards our neighbours.
4. Divine Intervention (Elia Suleiman, 2002)
Despite its controversial omission from Academy Award selections, Suleiman’s 2002 flick provides a humane portrait of the life of a Palestinian in Nazareth. Separated by borders and check posts yet united by love and passion, Suleiman stars as the lead protagonist whose searing eyes and expressive acting has won him critical acclaim.
Slow and minimalistic, this dark comedy won a Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. In his absurdist take on life in Palestine, the film is laden with irony and disdain at their condition as the viewers are left admiring the mundane nature of modernity,
3. A Drowning Man (Mahdi Fleifel, 2018)
Stranded in Athens, The Kid, who is of Palestinian descent, finds it hard to keep up with the pace of city life. Filled with bizarre encounters and unnerving events, he makes various compromises and is left questioning his decisions as he struggles for survival.
With his brilliant creative control over the shaky camera movements, Fleifel presents a raw and intimate portrait of survival in the unknown. The Kid’s haunting desperation and harrowing isolation are matched by the anxious yet floaty look in his eyes. With a twist in his tale that gives an account of the refugee crisis, Fleifel’s human drama feels too real, almost like snippets from a documentary.
2. Children of Shatila (Mai Masri, 1998)
Nearly five decades after their grandparents were exiled from Palestine, two street urchins, Farah and Issa live at the Beirut refugee camp. Against the backdrop of constant misery and isolation in a war-ravaged scene, the children find solace in their innocent dreams and imagination to help them cope with their everyday difficulties.
A scathing insight into the life of refugees, especially children as they languish in the drudgery and despair of exile despite innocence, is heightened in the film. The transgenerational injustice meted out to the children and the idea of them seeking respite in dreams to do away with the oppression is heightened via Masri’s empathetic and evocative lens.
1. The Present (Farah Nabulsi, 2020)
A doting Palestinian father must endure the harrowing Israeli Checkpoint 300 between Jerusalem and Bethlehem every day to get to his workplace. On his wedding anniversary, he is determined to journey with his daughter amidst all odds, dehumanisation, sneer and insults to get his wife a new refrigerator.
The short 24-minute poignant journey of a man fighting various challenges and arising out of political tension is a moving experience in itself. It is heartbreaking to watch the constant segregation and interrogation that leads to mental and physical afflictions on the people of Palestine who face injustice on a daily basis.