Farah Nabulsi, a British-Palestinian filmmaker, is turning heads with her latest short film, “The Present.” The multiple award-winning story recently bagged the prestigious BAFTA for “Best Short Film,” and is now in the running for an Oscar.
“The Present” is a story about life’s mundane moments, and how they are made arduous in the face of adversity. It revolves around the characters of Yousef (played by the very talented Saleh Bakri) and his daughter, Yasmine, who set out on a journey in the West Bank to buy his wife an anniversary gift of a fridge.
During an interview for Channel 5 News, Farah described the movie, saying: “At its essence, the film is about human dignity and the basic human right of freedom of movement. It’s about a hardworking Palestinian man who sets out with his young daughter to buy his wife an anniversary gift, which is a very simple task. But when you are transported to this landscape of checkpoints and soldiers and roadblocks, it is not so easy.”
Born to Palestinian immigrant parents, Farah was brought up and educated in the United Kingdom. Prior to setting foot in the world of filmmaking, Nabulsi worked in finance and investment banking, previously working for JP Morgan.
It was after what she calls “a transformative trip” to Palestine with her kids in 2013 that she began to truly understand the struggles of being a Palestinian; to be at home while simultaneously being a stateless refugee escaping settler violence. At that moment, she decided to tell stories from back home. For this purpose, she founded the production house Native Liberty and a digital resource, Oceans for Injustice, to deconstruct Israeli military occupation in a unique way.
What’s interesting about the film is that some parts of it were filmed documentary-style in the West Bank in order to make the scenes authentic. The picture below is from a starting scene, shot on location at Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem.
When I first began to watch the film, I had not anticipated the amount of distress this film would cause. After all, it was about a father/daughter duo going out for a day of shopping. What could be so tragic about that?
I had failed to see that the story is not so much about what the characters do, but rather, who these characters are — Arab and Muslim — living in squalid conditions in the West Bank. It was meant to be distressing because life for Palestinians is distressing.
At twenty-four minutes long, the film is mostly positioned around security checkpoints and the interaction characters have with the Israeli personnel there. The scenes brilliantly capture the sadism of the Israeli military. A particularly heartbreaking scene is the final exchange between Youssef and the soldiers.
Pain and helplessness is evident in his eyes as he tries to protect his daughter while begging soldiers to let him pass through with the fridge. “I just want to get home. It is just a fridge. What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have fridges? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!” he shouts in frustration while being refused to pass because the security protocols forbid it.
These security protocols are designed in a way to obstruct daily life for Palestinians. They serve no real purpose but to wield brutal power on Palestinians, and to control and scar them both mentally and physically. The sensitivity with which the film is written and directed makes it a gripping watch.
“The Present” is a story of a broken fridge, of barbed wires, of security checkpoints, of war, of love, and of life. Farah Nabulsi has created a masterpiece, tearing away stereotypes around Palestinian life and bringing true representation on screen.
It is not the only film this year to be Oscar-nominated that focuses on Israeli atrocities. An Israeli short film “White Ego,” that talks about Israel’s treatment of African migrants, is also in the competition.
This year has certainly been a win for representation in Hollywood. But whilst Oscars and BAFTAs may honor this film, it is ironic how at the same time, the U.S. and British governments have been strong sponsors of Israeli terrorism in West Bank and Gaza, not only dishonoring the Palestinian people, but blatantly violating their human rights. It is a reductionist and harmful viewpoint to reduce their daily reality to a film or other form of entertainment for consumer consumption. Yes, it’s great to create awareness around issues, but what happens next?
Here’s to hoping that “The Present” will create a profound impact and lift away this air of ignorance and callousness.
You can watch this film on Netflix.