Algerian singer Souad Massi and Egyptian Khaled Abol Naga co-star in film shot in West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinian filmmaker Najwa Najjar has finished her timely drama Eyes Of A Thief exploring the impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian life through the tale of a man searching for his lost daughter after his release from an Israeli jail.
Inspired by a real-life event that took place in 2002, at the height of the Second Palestinian Intifada and the Israeli incursion into the West Bank, the film moves back and forth between that period and contemporary Palestine.
It revolves around Tareq, an enigmatic figure harbouring a dark, violent secret returning to his hometown after serving 10 years in an Israeli jail.
He is desperate to find his daughter who disappeared during his absence. His search leads him to a young woman called Lila and also brings him up against the town’s self-imposed leader Adel, a man of dubious moral authority.
Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga, whose recent credits include Villa 69 and Microphone, plays Tareq — opposite Algerian actress and singer Souad Massi as Lila. Massi has also composed and performed a number of original songs for the film.
“It’s a very human story about a father with a dangerous past searching for his daughter, but it also explores what people do when they’re up against the wall,” says Najjar, who has just finished post-production in Athens.
Najjar explains the film is born out of her own experiences, living in the shadow of Israel’s controversial separation barrier.
“As a woman filmmaker living in a no man’s land between Ramallah and Jerusalem – officially Jerusalem but inside the 450km Wall area, and desperate for the end of injustice, and yet seeing the situation worsening daily with no hope in sight – I questioned what options lie in store when blackness surrounds a people, and the air thickens to a point where the mere act of breathing becomes difficult,” she says.
“Eyes Of A Thief questions what happens when reason and hope diminishes, apathy increases, consciousness is rendered almost extinct. Will people’s will to resist and survive also diminish? What options lie in store? These questions are not only relevant to Palestine but to the whole region.”
Najjar produced the film through Ustara Productions, the West Bank company she runs with Hani E Kort, with support from co-producers Algeria’s AARC cultural agency, Paris-based MACT Productions and Finnish Oktober Films. She shot the film in the West Bank town of Nablus earlier this year.
“It was nerve-wracking process and a very tricky situation especially getting Khaled into the country. It was the first time an Arab superstar has taken part in a Palestinian production,” recounts Najjar. “We started pre-production but were not sure whether Khaled would be able to enter the country or not. Just two days before we were scheduled to shoot, he was allowed in. That day there was a quite a celebration.”
“We shot 21 days in Nablus and four days in Bethlehem. Every single night during the shoot there was a nightly incursion,” continues Najjar, referring to Israeli military raids on Nablus. “As the main producers had a responsibility for everyone and everything. We had Icelandic money, so alongside the Palestinians, many of whom were working on a set for the first time, we had crew members from Iceland, Germany and France. In addition children, cast and crew, animals; everyone was our responsibility. It was stressful, to say the very least.”
The film has yet to secure a European festival slot despite the fact it is supported by a long list of European producers and funds.
Najjar’s previous film Pomegranates And Myrrh – about a West Bank dancer whose husband is in prison - toured the global festival circuit picking up several prizes along the way, Najjar says she suspects the narrative of her new work may not go going down as well in the West.
“I’m not sure this is a narrative the West wants to see but I hope I’m wrong. For decades the discourse in the West on the Palestinian resistance and survival has been misrepresented and oversimplified,” says Najjar. “Tareq is a father, just a middle-class man like you and me, dealing with an impossible situation…It’s an anti-violent movie, against the devastation of violence by addressing the premise of violence.”
The film was also backed by the Palestine Ministry of Culture, the Doha Film Institute, the Royal Film Commission Jordan Film Fund as well as the Municipality of Nablus and mobile phone company Wataniya Palestine and Germany’s Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) foundation.
It was also developed with the support of the Dubai Film Connection, the Sundance Scriptwriters Lab and also received the Duke Award.
France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC), the Icelandic Film Fund and Franco-German broadcaster ZDF/Arte also supported the film.