Annemarie Jacir: A Palestinian treasure
Her film “Like Twenty Impossibles” (2003) was the first Palestinian short film to be an official selection of the Cannes International Film Festival. It won more than 15 awards at various international festivals, including Best Film at the Palm Springs Short Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival.
Palestinian director and poet Annemarie Jacir has been working as an independent filmmaker since 1994 and has written, directed and produced a number of films, including “A Post Oslo History”, “The Satellite Shooters”, “Until When” and “A Few Crumbs for the Birds”, among others.
Jacir, who has a master’s degree in film and a major in politics and literature from Claremont College, was born in 1974 and grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving to the US at the age of 16. Jacir is the co-founder and chief curator of Dreams of a Nation, a project that aims to create an online database of Palestinian films and filmmakers. She is also the co-founder of Philistine Films, an independent production company that focuses on productions related to the Arab world.
In 2008, she completed her first feature film “Salt of This Sea”, which tells the story of a stubborn, passionate and determined Palestinian American refugee who returns home. The film, which was screened at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as well as some 100 other film festivals, was Palestine’s official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards.
Jacir has been working on her second film “When I Saw You”, which tells the story of a boy who runs away from home in search of freedom. Having been banned from returning to Palestine by Israeli authorities, Jacir now lives in Amman, Jordan.
Love it all
“I love it all; I love the whole filmmaking process. I love writing. I love working with actors – the magical moment when life breathes into the script. I love being on set – the rush of energy. I love dreaming of images and the beauty of everything when they all come together. I come from an editing background too, so the editing process is magical for me as well. I love my job.”
A scene that sticks out in my mind
“There were many scenes that stuck in my mind when shooting “Salt of This Sea”. The film was a small miracle in fact. In the beginning, the location permissions were rejected, then the crew was denied permission to travel. I was denied entry to Palestine; we faced Israeli army raids, ridiculous checkpoints, Apartheid Wall and other imaginary borders. I could go on and on. I believe that after shooting “Salt of This Sea”, I could shoot anywhere in the world. I don’t think I will ever make a film as hard to implement as “Salt of This Sea” and that is why it’s so special to me.”
The inspiration behind “When I Saw You”
“My new film “When I Saw You” tells the story of a young boy trying to go back home. The film is set in Jordan in the late 1960s – a time of great hope and change. What I love about this particular time period is that people used to feel they could do something to change their lives. They believed that something good would happen to them if only they could change things around them.
“The film revolves around a moment in this boy’s life when everything changes. This film is all about hope. In some way, it’s the opposite of “Salt of This Sea”, which was about a politicised character, Soraya, who was trying to find a way to deal with the anger she feels inside, trying to find answers to deeply rooted internal issues and conflicts. It’s about a reality that exists today and is very specific to the Palestinian experience. “When I Saw You” tells the story of a boy whose needs are much more basic.”
Film’s greatest challenges
“I faced two main challenges when filming “When I Saw You”: finding a good team and money. The film was shot with a quarter of what was really needed. The financial situation of cinema currently is very bad so we’re trying to work around the difficulties. In this case, compromises must be made, many of them indeed.”
Tribeca Film Institute saved the day
“I am grateful for the support I received for “When I Saw You” from the Tribeca Film Institute in New York. The backing of an institution such as Tribeca is very important for the project and every penny helps us get closer to finishing the film. We took the risk of shooting the film with no money for post-production because I felt we had no other choice.
“There is something wrong with Arab filmmakers constantly waiting for funds from Europe to come through in order to realise their projects. Something is wrong when a low-budget film such as “Salt of This Sea” waits six years before it receives funding. Arab filmmakers have many stories to tell and we have the energy and enthusiasm. The whole system of film financing has to change and I’m trying to figure out a way. So we took a leap and shot.”
Are we there yet?
“We don’t have any money to complete the post production of “When I Saw You”, but we’ve shot everything – the film is in the can! We have beautiful footage, beautiful images and we will focus all our energy now on finishing it. I’m so happy with my cast and my team and the support we have received so far. We have a long road ahead, but I am confident an angel will come through. Everything happens for a reason.”
Bitten by the filmmaking bug
“Why do I want to make films? Because I want people – as many people as possible – to see my films. I’m trying to tell stories and share them with others. Cinema is a collaborative art form that enables many people to come together and make their own stories come to life.”
Presenting the misrepresented
“I think international audiences have always been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I don’t think that’s anything new. The injustices in Palestine are so obvious. I don’t think there’s a place or a country in the world that does not know what kind of life Palestinians are living, except for perhaps parts of the US. But that’s mainly related to the issue of controlled information and media censorship. Sure though, Palestinian directors and artists are constantly battling the misrepresentation of the Palestinian cause.”
Want to go home
“It’s been four years now since I was denied entry to Palestine by Israel, as is the case with thousands of Palestinians. Sadly, being denied entry to your own country is not unique or unusual. Like thousands of others, I will fight and insist on my right to go back home.”