Cherien Dabis

Source: Amin Nazemzadeh

Cherien Dabis

Filming on Palestinian-American filmmaker Cherien Dabis’ upcoming feature All That’s Left Of You in Jaffa, the mixed city just south of Tel Aviv in Israel, has been disrupted by the ongoing conflict in the region.

Dabis was on a tech recce in Jaffa for her third feature, a historical drama chronicling one Palestinian family over three generations, when the October 7 Hamas attacks took place, sparking Israeli retaliation in Gaza.

“We had to evacuate all of our foreign crew,” Dabis told Screen. “We were hearing bombs and fighter jets overhead. The tensions were really high for the first days we stayed there before evacuating. It was scary.”

Some of her European crew were immediately evacuated, while others stayed a few more days hoping the situation would de-escalate. “We had been prepping for months and were so close,” Dabis said. “Leaving was truly one of the saddest and hardest things. None of us wanted to go.”

The filmmaker and her team relocated to Cyprus where production had been scheduled on segments of the film. “We’re scrambling to shoot this part of the film first now and then return to Palestine when things have quietened down. But it’s so hard to focus on anything other than what’s happening. Our hearts are so heavy.”

All That’s Left Of You takes place during the moments before a Palestinian teen is confronted by Israeli soldiers at a protest in the West Bank as his mother recounts the series of events that led to that fateful moment.

The film is a co-production between Germany’s Pallas Film and Twenty Twenty Vision and Cyprus’ AMP Filmworks. The local Palestinian producers are Tony and Jiries Copti of Fresco Films. 

The film was scheduled to shoot in five different cities all over the region – Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Haifa among them, in addition to Cyprus. “When it all first happened, everyone was shocked,” Dabis said. “We were two weeks away from shooting. Making this film has been one of the biggest challenges of my life and now, on top of everything else, it’s a logistical nightmare too.”

“I had no idea how prescient the film would be,” she added. ”The timing could not be more important for this movie and the crew and I feel an incredible sense of urgency to make this film about a family and what happens to them over generations of displacement and dispossession.”

Dabis’ first feature Amreeka, about the immigrant experience of a Palestinian mother-son duo in the US, premiered in Sundance and Cannes in 2009 followed by May In The Summer, which premiered at Sundance’s opening night in 2013.

She earned an Emmy best director nomination in 2022 for Disney series Only Murders In The Building and has also directed episodes of Ramy, Ozark, and The Sinner.

Palestinian cinema

The ongoing unrest is continuding to shake up productions in the region including Oscar-nominated Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir’s All Before You, a retelling of the 1930s farmer-led revolt against British colonial rule in Palestine produced by Philistine Films.

The Salt Of This Sea, When I Saw You, Wajib and The Oblivion Theory director posted an image of herself surrounded by her film crew to her Instagram page on Octoberr 14, confirming they were safe, but adding no further details on their location or future production plans.

Jacir wrote, “Our team is OK. Some were evacuated, and others are stuck. We are sad, scared, horrified, and angry. But all are feeling strong. We have come together as a team to say we are united that we will continue to do our work as we always have.”

The Palestine Cinema Days festival, scheduled to run October 24- November 1, has also been cancelled. Organisers said, “Filmlab Palestine has decided to postpone its 10th edition of Palestine Cinema Days indefinitely.”

The Palestine Film Institute has launched an initiative called Unprovoked Narratives, a series of films about Gaza which is screening online for free.

Palestinian cinema was honoured over the weekend when Lina Soualem’s Bye Bye Tiberias won the Grierson Award in Documentary Competition at the BFI London Film Festival. The filmmaker’s intimate portrait of her mother Hiam Abbass and four generations of Palestinian women is Palestine’s entry for the best international feature Oscar. After world-premiering at Venice the film has made stops at TIFF and Germany’s DOK Leipzig and just screened at Chicago International Film Festival (October 16).

Soualem told Screen of the film’s world tour, “Audiences have really connected to this film everywhere. The intimate stories of the women of my family echo the collective memory of the Palestinian people. At a time when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, our films will always exist to remember us.”