(Grazia) DARIN SALLAM ON FARHA: “I WAS TOLD THAT PALESTINE IS NOT A ‘TRENDY’ SUBJECT, BUT I CHOSE TO BE LOYAL TO THE STORY”
By Jumana Abdel-Razzaq
Darin Sallam's debut feature film about the Palestinian Nakba has won many awards, receiving both acclaim and outrage in one of the most gut-retching depictions of a historical event
There have been very few accurate portrayals of the Nakba (translates to 'The Catastrophe'), where more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as a result of the creation of Israel in 1948. Darin Sallam, however, has portrayed this significant event in history in a harrowing story through her critically-acclaimed debut film, Farha.
From its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, the film has since risen in popularity after it began streaming on Netflix in early December. It has been so far selected as Jordan's 2023 Oscars entry, and has secured best youth film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, with the streaming service giving the film a wider audience to share its striking and deeply personal story, one that still resonates with Palestinians as the effects of the Nakba continue decades on.
"1948 is an important year for the Arab World, but it's hardly ever mentioned," says Sallam, writer and director of the film. “Everything that is going on today – from checkpoints to the separation barrier, to continued displacement – originates from this particular incident, from this specific year. I wanted to tackle this issue head on.”
"Everything that is going on today - from checkpoints to the separation barrier, to continued displacement - originates from this particular incident, from this specific year."
Farha tells the story of a 14-year-old girl living in an unnamed village in 1948 Palestine when war erupts and her village is attacked. Her father locks her in a pantry to keep her safe, but after a brief battle, Farha is alone and begins witnessing atrocities from the small room she has become confined to, ultimately undergoing a life-changing experience. Her dream shifts from pursuing an education to that of survival.
The cast includes emerging young Jordanian actress Karam Taher in the lead as Farha, with other regional talents including Ashraf Barhoum, Ali Suliman, Sameera Asir, Firas Taybeh, and Majd Eid. The film, mostly led by a team of women, is produced by Deema Azar and Ayah Jardaneh of TaleBox in Jordan and co-produced by Laika Film & Television and Chimney in Sweden.
But bringing the movie to life was a long and challenging process for Sallam, who started writing the film in 2016. Sallam had faced pushback over developing the film before it was ever produced and was told that audiences wouldn't be interested in her story, even being warned that it may ruin her career. However, the director wanted it told and embarked on its production head on. More importantly, the film holds a deeper meaning for the director as it is loosely based on a true-life incident of a woman who was entrapped in a cellar during the Nakba - told to Sallam's mother after the woman fled to Syria.
During a Q&A at Dubai's Cinema Akil in October, Sallam shared her inspiration for the film in detail, explaining that is was based on a girl named Radieh who lived in Palestine in 1948. She had been locked in a room at the time by her father to protect her from Israel's invasion. “Radieh survived and walked to Syria where she shared her story with another girl. That other girl grew up, had a daughter of her own, and shared Radieh's story with her own daughter—who happened to be me,” Sallam says.
After years in development, the film was shot in Jordan in 2019, and debuted in 2021 to critical acclaim. "Funding wasn't easy because of the topic," says Sallam. “I was told that Palestine is not a 'trendy' subject and that I should base the story on a Syrian girl instead – which is viewed as more 'in demand'. But I chose to be loyal to the story." When asked if she felt like some people wanted to silence her, Sallam nodded her head.
“I was told that Palestine is not a 'trendy' subject and that I should base the story on a Syrian girl instead – which is viewed as more 'in demand'. But I chose to be loyal to the story."
With the debut of the film on Netflix, a reemergence of this backlash has come back to light, causing widespread Israeli anger with threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions. Israeli ministers and officials, including Israel's outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have accused the film's crew team of creating a “false pretense and incite against Israeli soldiers.”
Overall, Farha has received positive feedback in the Arab World and globally, with the film completing a successful tour in more than 40 festivals so far. The film has won 'Best Euro-Mediterranean Film dealing with Women Issues/ EU Award,' 'Best Director Award' and 'Best Actress Award' at the Aswan International Film Festival 2022 and has also received a 'Special Mention Award' at the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2021.
"The feedback has been beautiful, emotional, and a little overwhelming," adds Sallam. 'Farha is my baby and it has been amazing to see how people have been touched by this film, while hearing of their own stories in the process.'