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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Summer of ‘85

Film Review: Summer of ‘85

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

“During the summer, cousins play in Ramallah. Grandmothers bring families together.” (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

“Summer of ‘85” is a short documentary that chronicles the love and support a Palestinian grandmother, Shanaa provided her granddaughter while she stayed in her grandmother’s home during the summer in Ramallah. The film is told from the granddaughter’s point of view.

Director Rowan Al-Faqih is the first-person narrator, who focuses on the rocks that once were her grandmother’s house. For 30 years her grandparents rented the house. After her grandfather’s death, the owners demolished the home for fear the changing political climate may cause Palestinian police to move in, thereby increasing the risk of bombs from Israeli warplanes.

With a stick she carves the dirt around a rock from the foundation. After her grandmother’s death ten years ago and the destruction of the house, Ramallah “…feels empty and strange as if I misplaced my home and forgotten what it was I was looking for.”

Even though the house is no longer standing she shares photographs that bring to life her family spending time at her grandmother’s house. The pictures of small children sitting on a cement, porch rail or on top of a yard wall show that the grandmother and her home was a place of warmth and orientation for the family. The grandmother was an anchor that brought the families together.

The photographs are posted outside on cracked walls, so the wind catches the corners of the photos. Their past is captured in moments, now told as a tribute from memory. The unresolved issues between the daughter and the mother come to life as the narrator expresses their rifts in communication. Then she compares their distant relationship to the intimate relationship she had with her grandmother.

As the center of the family the grandmother brought relatives from overseas to her home, including a cousin that suffered a blow to the head from a rock during a standoff with some of the neighborhood boys. The incident resulted in familial distance between the family members living in the West Bank and the family members living in the United States. “Summer of ’85,” shows openness to addressing interpersonal concerns. Since unresolved issues may still exist perhaps their content will be in the director’s next film.

Although politics are not the central theme of the film, its underlying effects come to the surface through the house remains.

This film will be showing at St. Xavier University, located at 3700 W. 103rd St. from May 17-20 for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival. More schedule information can be found at

Camera: Rowan Al Faqih; Steff Bossert
Sound: Steff Bossert
Editing: Rowan Al Faqih
Collection’s mentors: Fernand Melgar (directing); Steff Bossert (camera); Thomas Bachmann (editing); Christine Ferrier (production); Jean Perret (history of documentary);
Production: Joelle Come; Nicolas Wadimoff
Executive Producers: Al-Ma’Mal Foundation for contemporary Art; Sami Batrawi; Issa Freij
Duration: 11 minutes
Copyright, Akka & Lago Films, Al’Ma-mal, 2005


-U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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