In this dire time, we want to share resources to help inform and educate. As the Arab Film and Media Institute, we have chosen to curate a selection of films that can provide information and context on the situation currently unfolding in Palestine. We have selected a mix of narrative and documentary features that are easily available to stream or rent online in the United States.
We founded AFMI to change the narrative, share our stories, and foster understanding of our common humanity through art and storytelling. Even if you are familiar with the history, we encourage you to watch these films and to share them with others.
Gaza (2019) dir. Andrew McConnell, Garry Keane
It’s hard to imagine anybody living a normal life in the Gaza Strip. Frequently labeled as the world’s largest open-air prison, it makes an appearance on news reports every time a confrontation erupts between Israel and Hamas. From TV sets thousands of miles away, this tiny piece of land has been reduced to an image of violence, chaos and destruction. So what do the people do when they’re not under siege?
The Gaza which is seldom seen is ordinary, everyday Gaza: a coastal strip which measures just twenty-five miles by six and which is home to an eclectic mix of almost two million people. Gaza cannot be understood in a purely political context or by analyzing tragic sound bites during conflict. It can only be understood by immersion, by living amongst its people and by recognizing and exploring its rich social diversity and cultural subtleties.
Gaza will introduce the audience to the surprising and the unexpected, the unfamiliar stories that portray its true face. It takes an atypical approach to finding out what makes this remarkable place tick as it introduces to the world extraordinary stories of everyday characters leading ordinary lives.
Gaza depicts a people plagued by conflict but not defined by it and as we journey through the physically broken and battered landscape, we let our cast of characters speak for themselves. Through them we gain a nuanced understanding of what life is really like for its citizens and, by extension, grow and foster a rare familiarity and affinity with this truly unique place, as we build towards a tender portrait of a beleaguered humanity.
Farha (2021) dir. Darin Sallam
Farha is a 14 year old girl who lives in a small village in Palestine, 1948. Girls her age are traditionally married off or spoken for yet Farha wants to continue her education despite traditions and the restrictions on schooling in her village for boys only. Inseparable from her best friend Farida, who lives in the city but who spends weekends in the village, Farha dreams of joining her at a school in the city. Life in the village is threatened and aggressively changed by the looming danger. Just when Farha’s father is finally convinced and Farha’s dream is at last coming true, the danger comes closer to their village.
As violence escalates, Farha is brutally separated from Farida. Terrorized for his daughter’s safety and fearing for her life, Farha’s father locks her up in a concealed, small food storage space by the house, promising to return. But he never does. Over the course of the next few days, Farha undergoes a life-changing experience while buried in the tight dark space, her only connection to the outside world is a small hole in the wall and a few cracks in the wooden door. Farha witnesses a lot of events, outside and inside the room, setting off her journey of transformation and forcing her to grow up and leave her childhood behind.
Inspired by the real-life experience of a young girl named Raddiyeh who survived the 1948 Nakba, this film is gut wrenching and we advise caution while watching.
Journalist Razmig Bedirian spoke to director Darin Sallam about the film for a piece he wrote for The National back in 2021 and she mentioned that she is often asked why she chose to tell this story from the past when there are so many current Palestinian stories to be told. Her answer reveals why it’s so important to watch and share her film:
The filmmaker says she chose to go back to precisely this moment in time to upend the narrative that Palestine “was a land without people for a people without a land”, a phrase that is commonly quoted in association with the establishment of Israel.
“Palestine existed. There was life there, people living with their hopes and ambitions,” she says. “The film is also a way to show that we won’t forget. And when I saw how many of the young actresses did not have a clear understanding of the Nakba, it pushed me more.
“When we screened in Toronto, a lot of people in the audience, non-Arabs, were leaving the movie Googling more about the event. To me, that’s a huge win. It is the impact I want the film to have.”
Farha premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was met with critical acclaim around the world and was even Jordan’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards. You can watch it now on Netflix.
3000 Nights (2015) dir. Mai Masri
Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri’s stunning feature debut is inspired by a true story. 3000 Nights traces a young mother’s journey of hope, resilience and survival against all odds.
Accused of helping a teenage boy on the run, Layal, a newlywed Palestinian schoolteacher, finds herself incarcerated in a top security prison for Palestinian and Israeli women. After Layal discovers that she is pregnant, the prison director pressures her to get an abortion and spy on the Palestinian inmates. Terrified but defiant, she gives birth to her child in chains.
Through her struggle to raise her son behind bars, Layal manages to find a sense of hope and meaning to her life. When prison conditions deteriorate and the Palestinian prisoners decide to strike, the prison director warns her against joining the strike and threatens to take her child away. In a moment of truth, Layal is forced to make a choice that will forever change her life.
The film was shot in a real prison with an almost entirely female cast, most of whom had a strong connection with prison either directly through their own experiences or through their parents, siblings or relatives. The film is heartbreaking and powerful. The film has received critical acclaim and was Jordan’s submission to the 89th Academy Awards. You can watch it for free on Tubi or stream it on Netflix.
Filmmaker Mai Masri is also an extremely accomplished documentarian, having directed multiple films on topics relating to Palestine. You can find her films Frontiers of Dreams and Fears and Children of Shatila, two documentaries about Palestinian children living in refugee camps, on Netflix as well.
Gaza Fights for Freedom (2019) dir. Abby Martin & Mike Prysner
This debut feature film by journalist Abby Martin began while reporting in Palestine, where she was denied entry into Gaza by the Israeli government on the accusation she was a “propagandist.” So Abby connected with a team of journalists in Gaza to produce the film through the blockaded border.
This collaboration shows you Gaza’s protest movement like you’ve never seen before. Filmed during the height of the Great March Of Return protests, it features riveting exclusive footage of demonstrations.
At its core, Gaza Fights For Freedom is a thorough indictment of the Israeli military for horrific war crimes, and a stunning cinematic portrayal of Palestinians’ heroic resistance.
Salt of this Sea (2008) dir. Annemarie Jacir
Soraya, born in Brooklyn in a working class community of Palestinian refugees, discovers that her grandfather’s savings were frozen in a bank account in Jaffa when he was exiled in 1948. Stubborn, passionate and determined to reclaim what is hers, she fulfills her life-long dream of “returning” to Palestine. Slowly she is taken apart by the reality around her and is forced to confront her own internal anger. She meets Emad, a young Palestinian whose ambition, contrary to hers, is to leave forever. Tired of the constraints that dictate their lives, they know in order to be free, they must take things into their own hands, even if it’s illegal.
Though this film is filled with humor and romance, it provides a look into life as a Palestinian in the diaspora, the loss of Palestinian property, many people’s inability to return as well as the severe limitation of movement and travel imposed on the Palestinian people. It has become a classic of Palestinian cinema and was even Palestine’s submission to the 81st Academy Awards. You can watch the film on Netflix.
Annemarie Jacir is a very accomplished filmmaker whose films tell very personal stories that speak to many sides of the Palestinian experience. We recommend also seeking out her short film Like Twenty Impossibles (available on Netflix) and her other feature films When I Saw You (available for free on Vudu) and Wajib. She is also the founder of Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research which is a multi-faceted project devoted to educational, cultural, and agricultural exchanges in Bethlehem. You can learn more about Annemarie Jacir and her work in this blog post.
Jenin, Jenin (2003) dir. Mohammaed Bakri
Directed and co-produced by Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri, Jenin Jenin includes testimony from Jenin residents after the Israeli army’s Defensive Wall operation. The city and camp were the scenes of fierce fighting which ended with Jenin flattened and scores of Palestinians dead. Palestinians as well as numerous human rights groups accused Israel of committing war crimes in the attack. The United Nations appointed a commission of inquiry, but Israel refused to let its members visit the scene.
Banned in Israel, Jenin Jenin is dedicated to Iyad Samudi, the producer of the film, who returned home to Yamun after the shooting of the film was completed. On June 23, as Israeli forces besieged Yamun, Samudi was shot and killed as he was leaving a militarily-closed area with three friends.
This documentary will ring uncomfortably familiar in this current moment. A reminder that very little has changed in the last 20 plus years for Palestinians. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo, courtesy of the Palestine Film Institute. We highly recommend following their work as well. They strive to create an inclusive body with the mission to develop, promote and empower the community and industry of film in Palestine and for Palestinians worldwide and preserve its cinema. They currently have a free film series entitled “Unprovoked Narratives” which includes 12 films that “celebrate the beauty of Gaza, its people and its struggle and its survival.”
Omar (2013) dir. Hany Abu Asad
Omar climbs over a separation wall and through bullets for Nadia’s love. He is a thoughtful boy and a focused baker. He lands on the other side a resistance fighter who faces choices about how to be a man. The occupied West Bank knows neither simple love nor clear war. Who’s an enemy depends on circumstance. Friends are captured, tortured and given the choice between life and loyalty. Suspicion and betrayal blot out trust. Absurd humiliations distort confidence and honor. Like the characters, enduring traditions also have no home. The youthful wills in Omar and in Tareq, Nadia’s militant brother, are both fighting for different freedoms – for self and for the people. Omar’s inner geography becomes as torn apart as the Palestinian landscape. Tareq fights on all fronts to protect his sister, tradition, his country and his friends. The brutal and beautiful uncertainty of the human condition is as much the hero of the film as Omar. We’re left to wonder the impact of the choices we make when all our reference points have been destroyed.
Omar won the Special Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2014 Oscars, making it the second film from Palestine to receive a nomination. The film can be watched for free on Tubi or streamed on Netflix.
Hany is an incredible filmmaker who does not shy away from stories that are dark and complicated. We recommend watching his other work as well, in particular Paradise Now (available to rent) and Huda’s Salon (available on AMC+ and rental platforms). You can also watch an interview we conducted with him last year on YouTube.
5 Broken Cameras (2011) dir. Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi
5 Broken Cameras is a deeply personal first-hand account of life and nonviolent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village where Israel is building a security fence. Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son, shot the film and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi co-directed. The filmmakers follow one family’s evolution over five years, witnessing a child’s growth from a newborn baby into a young boy who observes the world unfolding around him.
The Time That Remains (2009) dir. Elia Suleiman
Subtitled “Chronicle of a Present Absentee”, this humorous, heartbreaking film is set 1948, at the time of the creation of the State of Israel, just before the surrender of Nazareth. Fuad, a member of the Palestinian resistance, is separated from Thurayya, the love of his life. She flees the conflict and travels to Jordan with her family, but Fuad is captured just before escaping. Inspired by the director’s father’s diaries, letters his mother sent to family members who had fled the Israeli occupation, and his own recollections, the film spans from 1948 until the present, recounting the saga of Suleiman’s family in elegantly stylized episodes. Inserting himself as a silent observer reminiscent of Buster Keaton, Suleiman trains a keen eye on the absurdities of life in Nazareth. The film can be found on AMC+ and on rental platforms.
Despite the use of humor and heavy stylization, all of Elia Suleiman’s work speaks to the very real situations faced by Palestinians, situations which are often filled with their own absurdity. While we included this film specifically as it provides some historical insight, we do recommend watching the rest of the trilogy that it is a part of which include the films Chronicle of a Disappearance and Divine Intervention (both of which are available on Netflix), as well as his last feature film It Must Be Heaven. We also recommend seeking out some of Suleiman’s short film work, in particular Cyber Palestine (available here), Homage by Assassination (available on YouTube) and Introduction to the End of an Argument (available on Vimeo). The last film, co-directed by Jayce Salloum, is particularly relevant in this moment as we see the current news media spreading misinformation, and sometimes dangerous misrepresentations.
Pomegranates and Myrrh (2008) dir. Najwa Najjar
A free spirited woman dancer, Kamar, finds herself the lonely newlywed wife of a prisoner, Zaid who is imprisoned when a conflict arises around the confiscation of his olive farm. Kamar is a strong and modern woman, and to survive this difficult period, she decides to pick up her love for dancing again and joins a group of traditional Palestinian folk dancers despite her new family’s disapproval. A new choreographer, the Palestinian returnee Kais joins the dance group and brings a fresh breeze to the group and to Kamar. Her life is thrown into turmoil as she becomes increasingly attached to Kais and is caught between her desire to dance and not breaking family and social taboos about the role of a prisoner’s wife, while life under occupation rages on.
From all of us at the Arab Film and Media Institute we want to thank you, not just for reading this post, but for taking the time to educate yourself and better understand the history, context, and people of Palestine. This is just a small selection of incredible films by Palestinians and about Palestine. For more, please check out the list we have complied on Letterboxd.