Palestinian Director Farah Nabulsi Recalls 'Nightmare Of Gaza'

26 November 2019
Farah Nabulsi, Nightmare of Gaza, ON.DXB
The short film, which gets an online release on Thursday, November 29, screened at ON.DXB festival in Dubai

Farah Nabulsi was a film director before she had even realised it.

It’s the summer of 2014 and the Palestinian mother is on a family holiday in Spain, watching her children happily splash about, as Israel’s latest aerial attacks on Gaza dominate the news and social media.

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It is then that the seeds of her new film Nightmare Of Gaza, to be released online on Thursday, were sown. As a form of “self-therapy”, she began to put down her feelings on paper.

“I wrote this piece with no intention of making any film,” Nabulsi told GQ Middle East while in Dubai for the ON.DXB festival. “It was just me feeling what was happening and having to let it out. It was only later that I decided to take my writings, including Nightmare of Gaza, and turn them into short films.”

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Though Nightmare of Gaza was written first, two other films preceded it, Oceans of Injustice and Today, They Took My Son. Nabulsi’s film are short fiction, though heavily influenced by the real life trials that Palestinians endure on a daily basis.

“As a mother the idea that children, or any group of people of course, were dying hit a spot for me,” she says. “In the end almost 2,100 people were killed that summer, of which 500 were children. That really impacted me, and this was before I was film maker.”

Nightmare of Gaza is a visceral, 13-minutes film, a woman’s abstract journey through the rubble brought about by a devastating bombing campaign. It has already screened at film festivals and universities, and an adaptation of it was shown at the United Nations.

Farah Nabulsi
Farah Nabulsi at ON.DXB in Dubai

Nabulsi’s work has already received global acclaim.

“This is a brilliant film and demands to be seen,” British director Ken Loach said of Today, They Took My Son. “The story it tells is irrefutable, entirely justified – the evidence is there for all who are not blinded by prejudice. Television companies should be fighting each other to show this. If you care about nothing else, care about Palestinian children. You don't know what's going on? Then watch this film and I dare you to turn your back.”

Meanwhile former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters called Nightmare of Gaza “poetic and powerful”.

The director says she consciously looks to tell stories of Palestine to those who don’t know them, rather than function purely in an echo chamber.

“If I have to hierarchy who my target market is, my first is western audience, those who don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “Of course there is something to be said about targeting Palestinians and Arabs because we also are in danger of sometimes turning numb. So re-motivating them, re-inspiring them, re-activiating them on an emotional level, that’s the key here. But western audiences were my initial target.”

“When I get to screen at Oakland International or Vancouver International Film festival, I’m getting an audience that really are shocked by what they’re seeing on the screen, and they’re impacted.”

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Despite a subject that lends itself to documentary film-making, Nabulsi insists her priorities remain to write artistic fiction based on fact.

“I chose not to do documentary,” she said. “Specifically with these short films, I think there’s a real power in fiction that has not been used enough to tell our stories, so even though there are many documentaries out there that are incredible, I think that the fiction world hasn’t really matured enough when it comes to dealing with these difficult issues. So I chose fiction even though these films are completely framed and laced in fact.”

Nabulsi had visited her homeland as a child but not for 25 years between the first Intifada (uprising) and 2013, months before the war that inspired her film career.

“I was always very aware of my roots, of my heritage, of what’s been going on for decades,” she said. “I thought I got it all, but really there was no substitute for seeing what was happening in reality with your own eyes, so that was the case for me. On the global arena, Palestinians have been severely dehumanised, so their actions of aggression, of anger, and violence even, have always been presented without context, as opposed to them fighting occupation, oppression, apartheid.”

But is the plight of Palestinians getting better or worse?

“I believe on the ground, the situation is getting worse, but in the court of world opinion, I think Palestine is coming into the mainstream,” Nabulsi says. “I think things that you could never have imagined 10 or 15 years ago are happening right before our eyes,” she says, citing  Bernie Sanders’s courageous words of support at a recent US Democratic Party Debate.

Nabulsi’s next project is a “more traditional” short film called The Present, and deals with the indignities of checkpoints and the basic human right of freedom of movement. Despite the themes of sadness, she calls it a beautiful story.

If her other work is anything to go by, expect new audiences to be converted.