Farah Nabulsi, producer, writer and founder of media production company Native Liberty, speaks to The Universe’s Nick Benson about the harrowing injustices facing the Palestinian people. She recalls her trips to Palestine and how the oppression she witnessed there led to the founding of Native Liberty and the creation of her first short film, Today They Took My Son.
Farah Nabulsi admits that she is “truly thrilled” at the reaction her latest short film, Today They Took My Son, received at film festivals in North America and the UK. However, despite the recognition, prestige and credibility the film festivals brought to this very personal film, she says the festivals are not her priority.
“I didn’t expect much reaction from the film festival circuit at all, not because I don’t think the film deserves it, I believe it really does, but just given the topic I certainly had my reservations,” she told The Universe.
“While being officially selected for film festivals is great and I am thrilled as it adds recognition, prestige and credibility to the film, it’s not my priority. My priority will be getting it seen at universities, in front of students, in communities, community organisations, online, of course – to be shared far and wide beyond the audiences that any film festival could possibly provide me.”
Ms Nabulsi explained that her real purpose is to reveal the true oppression Palestinian people are facing and, particularly in this film, how Palestinian child prisoners are treated under Israeli military detention.
Today They Took My Son follows the story of a mother coping after her young son is taken away by a military system. Her helplessness to prevent the cruel and inhumane treatment she knows he is experiencing is more than any mother can bear.
The short film, which is just under eight minutes in length, is based on the true experiences of more than 700 Palestinian children each year.
Ms Nabulsi, the daughter of Palestinians living in diaspora, explained that she always thought she understood the injustices suffered by her people but, following a couple of trips to Palestine, she was shocked at the true extent of this persecution.
Born and raised in London, Ms Nabulsi recalled her first brief visit to Palestine in 2012 and a longer one in 2013, during which she witnessed even further injustice.
“I believe that there’s really no substitute for bearing witness to the injustice of someone or, in this case, an entire people than to bear witness to it first hand,” she said. “I’d always thought I understood and felt with the Palestinian people but when you visit, as I did, the sort of cold, brutal reality really sets in.”
Witnessing the treatment of children was particularly harrowing for Ms Nabulsi as she discovered they would be put in military detention systems and, more often than not, they had not done anything that would, or should, warrant them being taken away by any system, whether it be civil or military. The charge for putting children in these detention systems is usually that they have thrown stones.
“When I discovered the extent of what’s been happening and what continues to happen, and the fact that we’re talking about a military detention system for children, I was outraged and terribly disturbed,” she said.
She stressed that no child on Earth should be put into military detention and that by its very definition it does not offer any of the necessary protections for a child. However, the treatment of the children had a further affect on Ms Nabulsi as she is a mother herself.
“I’m a mother of five children – I’ve got three boys of my own and two step-daughters – and I love and adore them all very deeply and, as a mother, the very idea of any one of my children being taken away by anyone frankly – let alone a military system – and then being unable to do anything about it, it would absolutely destroy me,” she admitted.
The process appears to be “a systematic means of breaking a society through their children”, and it set the wheels in motion for Ms Nabulsi to do something about it.
“I was inspired as a mother and in solidarity with the mothers, the parents, the grandparents, brothers, sisters, families and the brave children who actually have to go through this, so that’s where I guess my inspiration comes from – from being a mother.”
Ms Nabulsi said there are usually three outcomes when anyone goes deeper into any injustice and begins to realise its true extent. First, they could decide to walk away, essentially turning a blind eye. Second, they could allow it to manifest, usually leading to a deep frustration and depression. However, the third option, the one Ms Nabulsi chose, is to do something about it.
“Scenario two did seem to be manifesting in me – frustration and depression,” she admitted, “so I decided to channel my energies and my frustrations into something creative that I felt could play a part in ending the oppression.”
This resulted in the creation of a media production company, Native Liberty, and a number of artistic productions that would re-humanise the Palestinian people as well as a website to educate and inform people on the injustice – you can find it at oceansofinjustice.com.
Ms Nabulsi said her visits to Palestine were a wake-up call and seeing the raw, ugly reality was much more distressing than just reading about it second-hand.
“You start to see first-hand what a beautiful, hospitable, enduring spirit and culture the Palestinian community has on the one hand and then this exhausting, deprived, humiliating, suffocating life that they’re leading on the other hand,” she said. “That’s not even close to the circumstances of deprivation that is being experienced in Gaza, which I have not in fact visited myself and can only imagine. So for me I don’t think it was so much a shock, it was more the cold setting in of the reality.
“You can read something, or see an image, but it’s never quite like the reality. The reality is far less glossy, it’s horrible and I don’t think anyone should have to live like that. That experience definitely opened my eyes.”
Ms Nabulsi hopes that Native Liberty will be a vehicle to both re-humanise the Palestinian people and spread the true extent of the injustice they face through artistic short films.
“I want to be able to engage with people through the films and directly educate, inform and discuss with them about what is going on and help develop their understanding of the situation. It’s like giving a voice to the silenced,” she explained. “I’ve got lots of aspirations and, like I said, it channels all of that frustration and helplessness into something that’s positive.”
She noted that she has never been under any illusion that her films would make money so she came at them, and Native Liberty, with a purely philanthropic mind-set.
“For me the real return on investment is seeing the reactions of people and what it does to their perspective and understanding of what’s going on for the Palestinians,” she admitted. “The inspiration I hope that the film will provide for action is also a huge reward and, frankly, to be able to look at myself in the mirror each day with a clear conscience and say, ‘yes, I am trying to do my part’.”
Ms Nabulsi is delighted at the interest Today They Took My Son has created, with more people wanting to find out about child prisoners and Palestine overall. However, she knows that in order to spread the message of the true injustice of the Palestinian people, her films will need to reach global audiences and there is one big tool that will enable this – the internet.
“You’ve got to remember that these are shorts – short films don’t really get cinematic distribution so I’m keen to get the short films in front of audiences far and wide.
“The end game would be the internet, but I’m really happy about the reception and the reaction I’m getting from the audiences at film festivals and universitites. I’ve been doing some Q&As after the film screenings and people are interested and they’re asking questions and that’s really important.”
Speaking of the reactions to Today They Took My Son, Ms Nabulsi was especially pleased with a ringing endorsement from Sarah Roy of the Centre for Middle East Studies at Harvard University.
“I’ve received some incredibly amazing endorsements from various notable figures, including John Pilger and Noam Chomsky, but Sarah’s certainly stood out to me as she really appreciated what Today They Took My Son was specifically about.”
Ms Nabulsi has another short film due for official release, which she hopes will be launched around March 2017. The 12-minute-long film, entitled Oceans of Injustice takes on the issue of refugees – again, early reviews have been positive. “Thousands of people watched it and shared it, which I was thrilled by because we hardly did any marketing at all.”
Those interested in viewing Oceans of Injustice can visit nativeliberty.org where they can sign up to be notified of its release.
As far as the future is concerned Ms Nabulsi is working on new scripts and already has another two set to be made into short films however, in order to do this she is looking at ways to raise funds.
As well as screenings of Today They Took My Son taking place at the Edinburgh Film festival and film festivals in New York, Edmonton and Vancouver, Ms Nabulsi recently took part in a personal screening of all her productions at York University in Toronto, Canada.
“It was fantastic and I’ve done a few private screenings too. I’m looking at doing the UK now as well, so anyone who’s interested can get in touch, I can be there depending on dates and the setting or I can basically provide the films and anyone can have a private screening free-of-charge – the films are there for anyone who wants to share them or watch them.”
Picture: The poster for the acclaimed short film, Today They Took My Son.