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Sonia Nettnin: Barrack Rima at Palestine Film Fest

Barrack Rima at Palestine Film Festival

By Sonia Nettnin

Director Barrack Rima (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

After a screening of his film, “The Land of ’48,” at St. Xavier University for the 2005 Chicago Palestine Film Festival, Director Barrack Rima spoke with the audience. It resulted in a contentious discussion with several audience members.

“I tried not to have answers but to ask questions about the future of Palestinians,” he said. “It’s a film that’s searching for answers.”

His documentary showed in several film festivals worldwide and it was a special feature on Moroccan Television. Born in Tripoli and of Lebanese descent, Rima immigrated to Belgium when he was fifteen years-old. He studied film. Rima focuses on documentary, fiction, experimental, and short films. Moreover, he wrote several books with his own drawings.

As a child growing up in Lebanon, Rima lived through the 1976 Lebanese Civil War. His mother, who grew up in the ‘60s, told him stories about her participation in youth organizations that defended Palestinians’ rights. However, he felt she did not know a lot about the history of Palestine. In search of answers to the refugee question, Rima investigated the subject through interviews with Palestinians who live in the Diaspora.

After Rima spoke with his interviewees, his conception of the film changed over time. He filmed it in 2000, and then edited it for the next, three years. According to Rima, he discovered that it is impossible to find any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

“It’s the principle problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “It’s not about land; the main problem of the conflict is refugees. I don’t see any solution.”

One month before filming Rima traveled to these countries in search of people for his interviews. He met people on the street; he met people through family members and friends. Rima spent different lengths of times with families and he interviewed a lot more people that were not in his film. In the end, he became friends with the families in Syria and Lebanon.

His film uses jazz music in the background because Rima likes it and his friends knew how to play it. He felt jazz had a more universal appeal compared to Arabic music.

After all of these interviews, Rima expressed his perspective about the Palestinian refugee question.

“This issue concerns more generally the way everybody has relations to a place, to a land,” he said. “Sometime it can be very dangerous how the relation to a place can be very selfish…it concerns not only Palestinians how to find identity…in ourselves.”

Over the last, few years, he believes many people changed their ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He does not see his film about the land in actuality, but about the people in exile.

“I don’t see any solution that’s simple,” he said. “Before in the past I had many solutions…even if there’s a peace process with a Palestinian state, the state would be so little.”

Although Rima does not agree with war against Israelis, he said that the problem is the majority of Israelis who were born in Israel believe it is their land. For Palestinians born after the mass expulsion they only know about the land as something they imagine from the stories told to them. Rima referred to an elderly man in his film, an Al-Nakba survivor, who now lives in Lebanon. He said the man wants to go back to the past.

“It’s important to have memory but it’s important how to think about living now and in the future,” he said.

After Rima answered several questions, some of the audience members took issue with Rima’s comments.

In response, one woman asked how she can be at peace with herself when she is from West Jerusalem. Another woman said people have a right to beautiful memories and that they are not negative memories.

“I think…it’s important to have memory but this memory is used in a very negative, political way,” he said. As a filmmaker, Rima has concern for the subject. During his childhood, people talked about the Palestinian refugees around him. He believes the governments and the political movements in the Arab World used Palestinians’ memories in negative ways that pushed the Palestinians to a horrible situation. Rima said it involved propaganda.

Two years ago, Rima visited Syria and Jordan. When he reached the Jordanian border, Jordanian police arrested him. For four hours, they interrogated him. He believes it is because he did not shave his beard. They kept asking him the question: are you Palestinian or Lebanese?

Even though he answered he was Lebanese repeatedly, they continued asking the same question. It was wearing him psychologically. He explained that these country’s regimes, including the Palestinian Authority, use Palestinian memory in dangerous ways.

Rima wants people to focus on the future. He explained that the situation is unjust. Even if people talk about the past, they should not live in the past. The film does not have his opinion because it is about the peoples’ opinions.

“A future without justice is not a future,” one man said. He explained that Palestinians have their collective rights and their individual rights to what they lost 55 years ago; and that they have to be uncompromising and unapologetic. From his point of view, the solution is the Palestinians’ right of return.

While at another festival, Rima met an Israeli filmmaker who made a film about Palestinian refugees. The general response from the predominant Israeli audience is they say it is not their problem. Rima believes the world has two kinds of people: selfish and not selfish. With regards to cinema, Rima does not believe it changes peoples’ ideas.

Another man told Rima that he diminished the historical value of Palestine, so he asked Rima the purpose of his film.

“I’m not diminishing the value I’m trying to document,” Rima said. “I’m not political and I’m a filmmaker and it’s my job to have doubt, not answers.” As a filmmaker he believes it is his job to doubt, otherwise it is propaganda. In his latest theater project, one part addresses politics. It will have a segment about Palestine and the Arab World.

In the end, the film succeeded in its objective: it gave Palestinians an artistic medium to express their beliefs and it stimulated public discussion.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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