Liana Badr - feminist, documentary filmmaker and well renowned author - has a special quest; to rewrite the Palestinian history through the eyes of women. After many years in exile she returned to Ramallah, and her documentaries are for her a way to get to know her country.
Already an acclaimed writer, why did you start making documentaries? I was born in Palestine, but left as a refugee in 1967. I worked as a journalist in Beirut, and with women in refugee camps. After the Oslo agreement in 1994 I came back to Palestine, and I was fascinated by my country, because I didn’t know it. I started to make documentaries to understand more about my country, to really get to know it.
You seem to always portray women and children? In arabic countries there is a very manschauvinist attitude. It’s always the man who is considered the hero. My films are not always about women and children, but marginalized people. If you look for them, you can find hero’s everywhere, in ordinary people.
My first novel was released when I lived in Beirut. It was about a hijacker and it was very well recieved. After that I wrote a collection of short stories about ordinary people, the war destroying their lives. I’m interested in finding the relation between war and the human being. The beauty of the small pleasures in life, subtle things. When I was working as a volunteer in the refugee camps, teaching women to read and write, I discovered that I was learning from them. I discovered there was a lot of wisdom among these people. I started to learn about folklore, and these women were to me a source of wisdom I hadn’t myself known before, because I had been in exile. I saw how they are facing the poverty. Even when they have nothing they are generous.
I try to bring all of this into my stories, whether being novels or documentaries. My project is to rewrite the palestinian history through the eyes of women. My mother was a women’s activist. She used to teach me how to look at myself as a woman with respect.
You are in Adana with your film The gates are open sometimes. Tell me about it A lof of people are suffering, and the film is to show some of the stories of how they are living there. I was filming the wall, it is a militant area. It was horrible. I was threatened by soldiers many times. Once when I was filming, a soldier was standing behind me, talking very loud to disturb me. It provoked me, I was on the palestinian side of the wall.
All of a sudden the soldiers pointed their guns at me. I had a panic attack, I couldn’t breathe. But I saved myself. I opened my arms and shouted ”This is Palestinian land!”. And they left. But I was on the edge of something very horrible.
The first film I did, Fadwa: A Tale of a Palestinian Poetess, was about a poet, one of the most important poets of Palestine. She wrote a book that is like the bible of the palestinian feminist movement. When she was 12 years old a boy threw flowers on her. Her brother saw it, and it was a big crisis for her family. They told her ”You will stay in the house until you die.” Her brother Ibrahim Toquan was one of the best poets in Palestine at the time. He didn’t let her out of the house, but he taught her to write. After 20 years of house arrest she left the house. She was a rebel, and she established the poetry of love and loneliness in Palestine. I made a film about her, and at the same time about her city. Because her city was also rebellious, always in resistance of the invasion. And it became a classic of the female cinema, because I didn’t only make a portrait, I also put her in relation with politics and history. It is the only document of the prescence of this poet.
What is the connecting point between writing novels and making documentaries? To me it’s the same process, not technically of course, but otherwise. I start thinking about a topic for a very long time. I become like a bowl of water, and when it’s full, I have to make a film or write a book. When I came back to Palestine I discovered people weren’t very interested in literature, nobody was reading. So I felt I needed to find another way to connect to people.
Whenever I make a film, I enjoy to get to know more and more about my country. And films can reach far around the world, so that more people can get to know it. I believe the image is what can unite the world. I keep writing for myself, but from time to time I make films, because it’s something I need to do. I become obsessed. I become obsessed all the time.
Are you obsessed with anything right now? Yes, with the non-violence manifestations in Jenin. Every friday they demonstrate, they have been doing so for five years now. And every time they are attacked by gas and bullets. A lot of people can be killed every time.