Cinema is a privileged medium; consider the resources, technical know-how, and expensive equipment it takes to create a film. It’s no wonder, then, that so much of Palestinian cinema thrums with an urgency to shout our stories to the world, to stick a stubborn thorn in the side of the global news cycle. Interestingly, it has often been Palestine’s proximity to journalists, with their power and modern equipment, that has inspired us to take our narrative into our own hands. The result is that a fragmented mess of people — spanning those living under occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza, as second-class citizens in Israel, and a worldwide diaspora — has created one of the richest and most productive collective oeuvres of the Global South. While there are truly too many gems to list them all, here is a cross-section of where to begin.
3000 Nights (2015)
Documentarian Mai Masri made her fiction debut with this story about a Palestinian political prisoner forced to give birth in an Israeli jail. Masri based the script on the true story of a woman she met making one of her documentaries. Maisa Abd Elhadi anchors the film with an unfathomable performance, bringing both ferocity and tenderness to a tale of agonizing injustice.
The Present (2021)
Military checkpoints are at the crux of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Almost every Palestinian filmmaker has related their experiences with the humiliating, sometimes lethal encounters that take place at these flashpoints. Released this year, Farah Nabulsi’s take on the checkpoint received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Short Film.
Paradise Now (2005)
Hany Abu Assad directs this controversial tale of two friends recruited for a suicide bombing mission. It handles inter-Palestinian societal complexities with exceptional delicacy, and has a sweet love story at its core.
5 Broken Cameras (2011)
This is a good introduction to the lived realities of Palestine, following the struggles of West Bank villagers whose lands are being annexed by the Israeli military. Cobbled together from footage filmed over many years by Emad Burnat in Bil’in with the help of Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, it captures both crushing hand of the occupation and the indomitable spirit of its nonviolent resistance.
Tel Aviv On Fire (2018)
Palestinians’ love of dark, often biting comedy may come as a surprise to some. It punctuates our daily lives and conversations — a salvo to the absurdity of our condition. No film captures that signature wit as well as this exceedingly watchable feature by Sameh Zoabi. A young Palestinian production assistant on a soap opera finds his voice as a writer with some help from an unlikely source: the Israeli general at a checkpoint where he is stopped.
The Time That Remains (2009)
Arthouse giant Elia Suleiman is at his best in this autobiographical film, which spans generations as it follows events in Palestine from the creation of Israel to the present day. Its carefully crafted frames will linger long in your memory.
Junction 48 (2016)
Best described as “48 Mile,” this film fictionalizes the life of lead actor Tamer Nafar, a popular Palestinian rapper with Israeli citizenship. Nafar, who also composed original songs for the film, plays Kareem, who is coming of age in the ghettoized city of Lydd, today a site of both Israeli settler violence and indomitable Palestinian resistance.