Annemarie Jacir is born in Bethlehem, and as a child she moved between the Palestinian town and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia where her father worked for the United Nations. At 16 years old she was sent to the US for school, and she stayed there for many years. First in 2008, with a master’s degree in film from Columbia Film School, did she return to Palestine where she made the first of now three films about life as a Palestinian under Israeli occupation.
Jacir’s films have all been screened at large, international film festivals and received glowing feedback from the audience. And even though the films are about a specific Palestinian issue they speak to a larger audience than maybe expected.
- I try to be honest in how I make film. I portray people I know, ordinary people that have flaws and defects. And then I try to ask questions in my films instead of them containing pre-chewed answers. It surprises me how big an audience my films get, because when I make a film I think about the Palestinian audience. That other people around the world can relate to such a specific subject excites me.
Film and politics
Annemarie Jacir’s films are perhaps not the subtlest, politically speaking. That might not be that strange considering the films depict the Israeli occupation of Palestine that’s now closing in on its 70th year.
- For it’s impossible to seperate film from life. When life is political, the films are political. I’ve actually never seen a film that’s not political. Even when a film tries to avoid politics, that very action is itself political. We as Palestinian filmmakers are often encouraged by international financial backers to avoid politics, but for me that’s not possible or appealing. I make films about what I know, always with an artistic freedom. If a film can make a political change, I don’t know, but a film can at least bring people together.
Annemarie explains that the short films she made early in her career had many different subjects; Iraq, pearl diving and cowboys. But all her feature films are about Palestine.
- It’s hard to make a Palestinian story that isn’t about occupation unless it’s an historic film or science fiction. What interests me are the people and how they live. The hope they cling to, how they find humor in the darkest situations and how they refuse to be expelled. These are the settings that inspire me to make film. How people live their daily lives. How they survive and love.
Many of Jacir’s characters are searching for their own Palestine. Soraya in Salt of this Sea (2008) leaves Brooklyn to look for her grandfather’s homeland, Palestine. Tarek, an 11 year old boy in the movie When I Saw You (2012) has had to flee the West Bank during the Six-Day War and throughout the film is longing to return to Palestine, while Abu Shadi in Wajib (2017) bitterly tells his son Shadi that the Palestine his son is talking about does not exist.
- For me Palestine is a home. Palestine is inside me. Palestine influences how I see the world, how I live and why I believe in mankind and it’s ability to survive.
Wajib – duty as criticism and as social glue
Annemarie explains that she does not want to use her films to promote her own solutions to the conflict. Still you can sense that in her latest film, as opposed to her last two, she’s more willing to also point the finger at the problems within the Palestinian society. This is conveyed through the two glowing actors Saleh and Mohammed Bakri that play and are in reality father and son.
- Wajib means duty in Arabic and concerns what are expected of you by society. In this film I wanted to explore life in Nazareth, the interaction in the local community and how people play different parts to each other. Every society has this idea of duty. Sometimes it can feel limiting and exhausting, but it will also play a part in keeping traditions alive. Both main characters carry with them a lot of pain and anger that they show quite differently. And this is what the movie is about: two men that have lost their family, but are trying to get it back. They’ve taken different life choices that they both want to be met with more understanding. I don’t want to say who is right and who is wrong, but rather to describe both their pain and their reality, she concludes.