British-Palestinian filmmaker, Farah Nabulsi, gives us an eye-opening and heartrending look into the lives of everyday citizens who are suffering the consequences of political isolation and unrest through her Bafta-nominated and Oscar-nominated short-film, The Present.
On the day of his wedding anniversary, Yusuf and his daughter Yasmine make their way to the West Bank to purchase his wife a present in celebration of their marriage. On the outside, it seems like a soft, kind, and simple undertaking that people could easily do on a regular basis. But for them, it involves a laborious journey and process that include overcoming isolated roads, military checkpoints, and armed soldiers. This is a horrifying reality that thousands of Palestinians face just to earn a living or engage in common activities such as shopping for necessities or pleasure.
While Yusuf’s character is fictional, he was the perfect representation of a life of a laborer in occupied Palestine struggling to make ends meet and trying to exhaust all means to uplift his family’s life. In fact, Nabulsi used guerilla filmmaking ― a daring and risky style that entails filming scenes in real locations without the use of professional background actors, film permits, or formal preparation ― to fully capture the richness and genuineness of what life is like for these Palestinians as they go through these congested and brutal checkpoints.
This powerful story was inspired by a friend of Nabulsi, who lived a stone’s throw away from a checkpoint
At a time wherein monumental changes are happening in society, it is heartbreaking to see that there are people who are being humiliated and abused simply because of their nationality or ethnicity. What’s immensely appalling is seeing how people are treated like animals by putting them into cages at these checkpoints for the most mundane reasons. The sense of fear and confusion through Yasmine’s eyes was palpable as it must be a horrifyingly traumatic experience for a little girl who only wanted to buy a present for her mother. On their way back, seeing Yusuf distressed and screaming “I just want to go home” was so painful and difficult to comprehend because something as basic as shopping for necessities and bringing it home seemed like a criminal act to these soldiers to the point of threatening them with armor and weapons.
This powerful story was inspired by a friend of Nabulsi, who lived a stone’s throw away from a checkpoint that he has no escape from, as there is no other way to do anything or go anywhere without passing through it. Not to mention, this specific checkpoint is notoriously known for strictly restricting items that can be brought through, similar to Yusuf and Yasmine’s struggle as they tried to transport the refrigerator through the gate.
From Investment Banker to Advocate of Human Rights
While Nabulsi was born and raised in London, she is Palestinian at heart and a frontrunner in advocating for human rights specifically focusing on criticizing the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. The long-standing occupation has persistently violated and abused fundamental human rights.
According to Amnesty USA, “in contravention of international law, Israel continues to build parts of the wall/fence in the OPT, expand settlements and use draconian restrictions on the movement of Palestinians with some 600 roadblocks and checkpoints. Amnesty International is also concerned about discriminatory policies affecting access to water for Palestinians. In areas under control of the Palestinian Authority, concerns include, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, torture and the use of administrative detention to jail individuals without charge or trial. Some detainees also do not receive adequate medical attention.”
While politics was rarely part of the conversation in her household growing up, she was deeply grounded on her roots, culture, family, friends, as well as childhood memories spent in Palestine that helped her form that undeniable connection to her origins and her fellow Palestinians. But those trips and good memories were short-lived and suddenly prohibited due to the Intifada resistance movement, which sparked a desire in her to fight and make a difference in her own way. Instead of staying on the sidelines and the safe side of things, she became more involved in the issue to the point where she would even take her own kids to Palestine to help them understand the reality that is oftentimes obscured by the media.
After personally going to these checkpoints and seeing how people are painfully going through this inhumane process left a traumatic impact and served as a wake-up call to do something meaningful to help others. After years of working in the corporate world, Nabulsi pursued her passion for storytelling where she eventually found her purpose of giving a voice to Palestinians. There was only one way to tell their stories and that’s by giving them the platform and documenting their lives as it happens and unfolds in their everyday reality, as outstandingly portrayed in the film. Nabulsi believes that establishing a strong emotional human connection to the audiences instead of purely presenting the facts was the most effective way to raise awareness and transform minds, and this was exhibited through Yusuf and Yasmine’s journey.
Nabulsi pursued her passion for storytelling where she eventually found her purpose of giving a voice to Palestinians
Nabulsi’s The Present is living proof that there is still so much work to do and by utilizing our resources and being proactive through concrete actions, we can greatly contribute to the kind of change that suffering communities rightfully deserve. This short film only gives us a taste of Nabulsi’s extraordinary voice and talent as a filmmaker and advocate. Her upcoming feature-length film, The Teacher, will focus on deeper social issues that will surely continue to inspire, empathize, spark meaningful conversations, and make a huge difference.