‘Farha’ Filmmakers on Social Media Backlash to Jordan’s Oscar Contender: “It Felt Very Much Like an Organized Thing”
Farha was an indie film success story.
Darin J. Sallam’s low-budget drama, set in 1948, in the early days of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, premiered in Toronto last year before touring an A-list of international festivals with sold-out screenings in Rome, Busan, Gothenburg and Lyon. Critics loved the movie, praising the story of the feisty Farha, a 14-year-old girl living in a small Palestinian village who butts up against her society’s patriarchal restrictions on young women. When Israeli forces enter the town — part of a military action that saw more than 700,000 Palestinians displaced and scores of Palestinian towns and villages wiped off the map– Farha’s father locks her in a room for safety. She sees Israeli soldiers commit atrocities against civilians from inside the town.
The festival buzz around Farha led to a global Netflix deal via sales group Picture Tree International. And this year, as award season kicked off, Jordan picked the movie to represent the country in the 2023 Oscar race in the best international feature category.
The backlash followed.
“It was November 29, 48 hours before the film was set to go out on Netflix [on Dec. 1],” Sallam recalls. Sallam recalls that she and her Farha producers Deema Azar, and Ayah Jardaneh arrived in the U.S. just to kick off Farha ”s Oscar campaign. “The moment we landed, our phones were flooded with emails, messages and social media posts.
Most were nasty. Some called Sallam “terrorist Muslim,” “Nazi” and worse. They accused her film, which they claimed was a propaganda tool for lies about the Israeli military or Middle East history, of promoting them. A petition was started online requesting Netflix to remove the film. Another petition asked people to downgrade Farha via IMDB.
Many prominent Israelis joined the pile-on.
“Buh-bye Netflix! Laura Ben-David, a Jewish author and photographer, tweeted that she was cancelling her Netflix subscription to protest the support for “Farha,” a false and anti-Israeli film. Nataly Dadon, an Israeli model, called her followers to cancel Netflix via Instagram. She claimed that Farha was intended to incite hatred against the Jewish people.
Sallam says, “This was all before Netflix had the film. So there was no way anyone could see it yet.” “But maybe two hours after the IMDB petition when up we saw some 500, then 700, then thousands of people going online and giving the film 1 star. We were shocked .”
Then politicians intervened. Israel’s Culture Minister Chili Tropper accused the film of falsely equating the actions of Israeli soldiers in 1948 with that of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Avigdor Lieberman (Israel’s outgoing finance minister), is the head of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu political party. He condemned Netflix for streaming the film under “a false pretense [to] provoke against Israeli soldiers.” He suggested that Israel withdraw public funding from Al Saraya Theater, Jaffa, if it plans to screen the film.
Deema Azzar, producer, says that suddenly there were many articles repeating the same thing from Israeli media and the media. It felt very organized. “The film had been on the market for over a year, and had won awards all over the world. It was also screening everywhere. And then, just before the Netflix release, at the height of the Oscars‘ campaign, this happens. It was no coincidence
The focus of the backlash is almost entirely on the one short scene in Fahra in which Israeli soldiers are shown murdering a civilian family. Some have also objected the film’s structure, claiming that showing a teenage girl hiding in the dark intentionally invokes Anne Frank’s story and invites viewers compare Israelis with the Nazis.
Sallam tells THR the entire film, including the violent scene, is based on stories she has heard her entire life, “from my mother, from my grandparents, from people who lived through the Nakba,” she says, using the term, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, used by Palestinians to describe the events of 1948. She says that she gathered all the stories from people who witnessed it, including my mother, father, grandparents, families, and friends to create the world.
Sallam says that the film shows a small incident compared to historical events. It is a small way for us to pay respect to all the people who died and all those who were lost back then .”
She notes that while there are many films “being made about what’s happening now in Palestine” there are no other movies set in 1948, “during this very specific event that was the source of so many issues, and not just in the Arab world.”
Exactly how many Palestinians died during the events of 1948 and how is a matter of furious historical debate. Alon Schwarz, an Israeli director, was subject to a lot of criticism this year for his documentary Tantura ,. It uses eyewitness testimony and recordings of confessions from soldiers of Israel at the time to document the Nakba massacre in Gaza of Palestinians.
“It is surreal to me that people could be denying the Nakba,” says Sallam, whose family fled Palestine for Jordon in 1948. “Because denying the Nakba means denying my existence.”
Netflix declined to comment on the film and the backlash. They only acknowledged in an email to THR, that Fahra was “an acquisition” but not a Netflix original.
“We haven’t reached out to Netflix, but their response was very direct, because the film was on their platform, they showed it, which means much to us,” says Fahra producer Ayah Jadaneh. “That was a tremendous amount of support for me. We are grateful for their bravery
It appears that Fahra ‘s opponents wanted to stop people seeing the film. This seems to have backfired. The screening at the Al Saraya Theater, Jaffa, Dec. 1, went as planned. Since its Netflix bow, the film’s IMDB rating had rebounded — it’s currently at a stellar 8.6 out of 10.
“We are overwhelmed by how much support the film has received globally and we are grateful to all who are doing their part in standing up against this attack to ensure the film’s visibility and is spoken about and seen,” said the filmmakers in a statement. “The film exists, and we exist . We will not be silenced .
Fahra will be screened at the Park Avenue Screening Room, New York on Friday Dec. 9th at 2pm. A Q&A session with the filmmakers will follow the screening.
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