Houston Palestine Film Festival

Sharing the stories of Palestinians through cinema

Houston Palestine Film Festival
2510 Wichita St.
Houston, Texas 77004

Transit Game: A Film on the Common Struggle of "Leaving Home"

Transit Game is a film that triggers people’s emotions, and helps them recognize their own stories.
— Anna Fahr

Houston, Texas – The Houston Palestine Film Festival screens Transit Game by Anna Fahr in its 9th edition this year. We talked to Anna Fahr about the motivation behind making the film, the challenges, and other things.

HPFF: Thank you very much Anna for being with us. It’s a pleasure having you!
Anna: Pleasure to be here.

HPFF: Our first question to you is about the motivation behind making Transit Game. What made you make this film?

Anna: Part of the motivation behind making the film was my general fascination with what it means to be in exile. I am not Palestinian myself. My family is from Iran originally, and my parents left Iran before the 1979 revolution, and they relocated to North America, before settling in Canada, so all my life I had wondered what it could have been like if they have not left. One idea I had with Palestinian refugees is that they could not go back, so that’s one of the reasons to why I was drawn to the idea of the film.

HPFF: You have screened the film in many festivals worldwide, how was the film received?

Anna: So far, it has been very well received. We have screened it in Europe, at the Beirut film festival, and some festivals in the US and Canada, and I am really pleased on how it is going so far. We just came back from Florence, where the film won the critics jury prize at the Middle East Now festival. This May, we will be heading to Cannes, to the short film corner, and the film is nominated for an award in Canada at the end of the month.

HPFF: The film is filled with details and symbols. How do you think such use of symbols helped tell the narrative of refugees in Lebanon, whether being Palestinians or Syrians?

Anna: I think part of the reason why I wanted to focus on details in terms of props, dialogue, setting, and put together a very simple story of two children who cross path with a man who just escaped war in Syria, is that I wanted to keep things as universal as possible, and approach the subject in a more humanistic way rather than trying to impose any political agenda or ideology. I just wanted to make this film about people, who went through certain circumstances and who happen to have certain things in common, and through that hopefully, be able to relate those experiences to the audience. Details, like art direction and dialogue, are things that trigger people's emotions and probably they would recognize their own stories in those moments in the film.

HPFF: What were the main challenges you and your crew faced while filming Transit Game?

Anna: Unlike Syria, we are not facing an all-out war in Lebanon, but at the same time, there have been moments where there were attacks, and at that particular period while we were shooting back in the summer of 2013, there has been a rise in bombing, so there was that sense of uncertainty of whether something might happen. That being said, we were cautious in terms of choosing a location that has not been targeted at that point in time, and the location we were shooting in was a remote area. The sense that something might happen has become an underlying reality of living in this part of the world, and you just adapt to that and get on with your daily life, and it does not stop people from making really good films and producing very interesting work

HPFF: A message you would like to send to your audience in Houston…

Anna: This is the first screening in Houston and in Texas. I am really honored to be screening my film at the Houston Palestine Film Festival, and I heard really good things about it. We all know there is a certain representation of Middle Easterners that people are fed through the media, and watching films that show an alternative picture might hopefully balance out more stereotypical images. I hope people can find something that they can relate to, and realize that it’s a common struggle, as everybody at some point in their lives had to leave their home or country and relocate.

HPFF: Thank you very much Anna, and we look forward to your future projects.

Anna: Thank you! 

"Ave Maria" From a Small Unnoticed Church to Festival de Cannes

Accepting my film Ave Maria at Cannes was a blessing that will help me in my future feature.
— Basil Khalil

Houston, Texas - Palestinian Cinema has always proved to be one of the best in the Middle East. With films like Omar and 5 Broken Cameras, Palestinian cinema was able to make its presence at international platforms. Recently, a short film by Basil Khalil, a young emerging Palestinian filmmaker, was selected by Cannes de Festival. As soon as we heard that, we called Basil, to talk to him about this short, Ave Maria, Palestinian cinema, and his future plans. Here is the transcript of the interview:

HPFF: Thank you very much Basil for being with us today, and congratulations on your film being accepted at Cannes.

Basil: Thank you!

HPFF: Let me start by asking you about the film.. What is the story about? And what was the inspiration behind making the film?

Basil: The film is about a group of nuns who live in an isolated convent in the middle of the West Bank, and have taken a vow of silence. On a Friday evening, a Jewish settler family breakdown outside the convent in their rush to get home before the Sabbath kicks in, and have taken a shortcut on the Arab roads, and not the Israelis-only road. The Israeli family need help from these nuns in order to get home, however the nuns can't speak, and the Israelis can't use a phone on a Sabbath. That’s what the story is about.

PFF: And what made you make this film?

Basil: Well, I like comedies… I like entertaining films, at the same time, stories from the Middle East are always grim and miserable, especially from Palestine, and yes the situation is quite grim and miserable, but we, especially Palestinians, have developed a sense of humor, like the ghetto humor, which you got in Europe in the 30s, where they had to alleviate their sufferings through laughing or finding jokes around their own miserable lives, as well as educating on the situation. You will find people more likely to watch a comedy than a politically charged film, and will learn that in the West Bank there are roads for Jews only; nice road, and there are roads for Arabs only, which are full of pot holes and are less maintained.

HPFF: When you were sitting on that day, and you got the call that your film was in Cannes.. Tell us how was that moment?

Basil: Well, I had a friend of mine visiting, director Suha Arraf, she was in Spain, where I currently live, for a film festival, so we were just in Madrid walking out of the metro and I got the call. I was in shock and she was standing next to me, screaming and being happy for me , and I was trying to play cool with the person on the other side of the phone but at the same time, I was in shock. I was speechless. I thought it was a sick joke until I got the official email a few hours later. I still don’t believe it because Cannes tends to go for very arty and heavy films, but mine is very, in terms of style, very mainstream. So either they are changing the direction or it is something I did not see coming. But I am really happy; I am not going to deny that.

HPFF: We are happy too, because it is an honor to have such a great film in such a prestigious festival.. Building on that, why do you think it's important for such a Palestinian film, or a film that portrays a Palestinian story to be present at such a prestigious festival?

Basil: I think it's very important now for us to make a presence, because for many decades we have been pushed aside as crazy people in the media or political agendas. I mean, the general discourse would be "don’t listen to them, those people hijack planes." We have never had a voice, and coming with a strong cinematic culture, I would compare ourselves to the Iranian cinema, which is very popular in Europe. Yet, on the political level they are always pushed aside as crazy people. So, we have learnt to find our space, and I think from suffering comes very strong storytelling. So when you have got an actual message to share with the world, you do invest in it, because you want the world to hear it. That has been a drive for us, Palestinians, and I think that it's important for us to prove that we are normal. We have our stories. There are happy moments, sad moments just like everyone else

HPFF: So, generally, you are a filmmaker, and you have made films, and worked with a number of Palestinian filmmakers, how do you evaluate the Palestinian cinema overall?

Basil: Oh, I don’t know, it’s a tough question… I have only been on the scene for a few years. I can say now there is becoming more of a variety, because it's the YouTube generation, and people are making sketches online, comedians are doing standup shows and weekly updates and musicians are doing music videos with their friends. So there is more of a variety. Twenty or thirty years ago, we had only 2 or 3 directors and we barely had a Palestinian film which would make a substantial impact. Now we have three or four films a year of features, and a numerous number of short, and you know the diaspora Palestinians, especially in Europe and North America, found their voice through making actual Palestinian stories. That has given us a wide range of films whether its political, thrillers, comedies, love stories. It has not been like rubber stamps and I think that’s very healthy

HPFF: Who was your influence in filmmaking?

Basil: Before I became a filmmaker, I was influenced by images. We used to get the national geographic magazine, and I always wanted to be a National geographic photographer. So I liked images at a young age. My mom is British, so I grew up with a bit of British story telling influence, like Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book. We were not allowed television or cinema at home, my parents were quiet strict, so every once in a while they would pull out the television from the storage room and watch a movie like Sound of Music or Lawrence of Arabia. Those were the films that a Christian family would allow its kids to watch, so those big epics inspired me. Sound of music is a type of film that everybody of any age would like

HPFF: You are busy with Cannes and other festivals, but is there any project that you will be working on soon?

Basil: I do have a project in development, I have been developing it for a while, but I had to make this short first. It’s a comedy set in Gaza. It's sort of in early stages, but the basic idea is that there is a new epidemic in Israel, like Ebola, but not exactly. Israel gets shut off by the world, and the only safe place in the region is Gaza because of its isolation, so everybody wants to escape to Gaza.

HPFF: Wow! That is a story! We are really looking forward to watching this film!

Basil: Give it a few years, its quiet a thing to pull off. This short comedy was also on a touchy subject that would help me finance the feature, because for a couple of years I was trying to get off the ground, but I had to prove that I can make high a concept idea first. So this short film being accepted at Cannes is such a blessing because it will really help move my feature project.

HPFF: Basil, it was a pleasure talking to you! We can't wait to have you and your film screened here in Houston. Thank You very much for your time!

Basil: Thank You! 

Houston Palestine Film Festival 2016