Ours is a Country of Words takes place in Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, that was built when thousands of Palestinians fled their country in 1948. The story we want to tell there takes place at an unknown moment in the future, when the dream of the Palestinian refugees to go back to Palestine becomes reality. The film balances on the thin line between fiction and documentary, between dream and reality. We get to see how families are preparing for the fictional return, but through the scripted events, it slowly becomes clear that their dream is far removed from their daily life in the camp.
'A Country of Words' is a politically engaged documentary, but can also be considered a work of fiction. With the help of the people that I got to know in Shatila, I wrote a script which adds a fictional layer to the film. This fictional layer is a visualisation of the desire that lives in many Palestinians' hearts: to return to their home country. The deeply rooted desire for the return is like a dream that many Palestinians cling to. By turning this dream into reality within the film, we want to ask the spectator to think about the duality of the existence of Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon. As any people in exile, Palestinian refugees’ identity is defined by Palestine, their home country on the one hand, and Lebanon as a temporary residence on the other. By involving the residents of Shatila in the creative process as actors, we hope to provide a free space in which they can formulate their own questions and answers about the world that surrounds them. The scripted scenes in the film are used to obtain a better understanding of the reality of Palestinians in Lebanon. It is exactly through the words they use, as actors, to talk about the fictional return to Palestine, that we can understand more deeply what it means to them personally to live in exile.
Director's declaration of intent
I travelled to Shatila for the first time in 2011 with the motivation and the belief that documentaries can show the world as it really is, expose oppression and rebel against the ruling powers. But I soon understood that a camera is not a neutral interpreter. Slowly I felt I was slipping into a similar approach to that of other photographers, documentary makers and journalists who had come to Shatila. With every image and every question, I pushed the people, who were so hospitable, further into the role of the victim. The images I tried to make of Shatila only had meaning in a culture where Palestinians are shown as victims. Although it is not my intention to deny that the inhabitants of Shatila are living both a political and humanitarian crisis, this is not how I want to show them. It is my role as a filmmaker to question the images I make of a place and how these images have an impact both on the one that is portrayed and the spectator.
When I returned to Shatila in January 2016, I wanted to search for a new role for myself as a director behind the camera, but also for the people I had become friends with in front of the camera. By sharing the production process with them, we can tackle this project as equals and find out what kind of film we can make together. This time, the director is not the sole source of knowledge, but rather the one who helps the actors in their search of the story they want to tell themselves and the words they want to use.
After the withdrawal of the British from Palestine, the Independent State of Israel was declared in 1948. The surrounding Arab states immediately invaded Israel and the war that followed forced more than 700.000 Palestinians to flee their country during the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus. During the war of 1967 between Israel and different Arabic States, the number of refugees increased considerably and today the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East) registered more than 5 million Palestinian refugees. Although the UN declared from the beginning that all Palestinian refugees (both first generation and their descendants) have the right to return, the Israeli government continues until today to deny this right.
The vast Palestinian refugee population is routinely forgotten and ignored in much of the Middle East. Not so in Lebanon. Unlike in other host countries, the refugee question remains at the heart of politics, a recurrent source of passionate debate and occasional trigger of violence. The Palestinian presence was a catalyst of the 1975-1990 civil war, Israel’s 1982 invasion and Syrian efforts to bring the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to heel. Virtually nothing has been done since to genuinely address the problem. Marginalized, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines – inter-Lebanese, inter-Palestinian and inter-Arab – the refugee population constitutes a time bomb. Until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, a comprehensive approach is required that clarifies the Palestinians’ status, formally excludes their permanent settlement in Lebanon and significantly improves their living conditions in the camps.
What will this crowdfunding serve for?
The shoot in Shatila is completed and we started the postproduction of the film. To be able to finish image and sound of the film in a professional way, we are still looking for financial support. If you believe this project is worth finishing, please do not hesitate to make a contribution. We are happy with every donation and besides our eternal gratitude, we also want to give you an reward for your help! You can be amongst the very first to see the film, you can get some exclusive digital and printed photos of the shoot or attend the premiere of the film on the big screen. Thank you very much!