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A World Not Ours
2014/11/01
By : Emma Lane
Winner of the Best Feature Award at this year's Social Impact Media Awards,"A World Not Ours" is the astounding personal journey of director Mahdi Fleifel coming to terms with his refugee past and the people who make up that past. The film interlinks gritty old camera footage from his father and old interviews Fleifel himself conducted on returns to the refugee camp of Ein el-Helweh, in southern Lebanon with present day content. Tied together with the director's sometimes humorous, often reflective narration, the film successfully conveys the sense of confusion and alienation felt by returning to the camp.

One of the major themes that emerge from the film, and indeed its title, is the crisis of identity felt by the refugees. Recurring reference to the impact of the World Cup can be seen in Fleifel's return to the camp. In early footage it appears that the sporting event holds the opportunity for the adoption of new nationalities and identities. The 2006 tournament is mentioned to have "ended in a bloodbath", so strong are the connections with the teams.

The sense of community spirit seems banished by this event, and later the magic of the World Cup seems to have been replaced by interest in recreational drug use and weaponry. It is with this change in tone that the viewer feels Fleifel's alienation. His generation of refugees have moved on in their enthusiasms whilst his life outside the camp has affected his ability to relate to his peers. The world cup becomes a symbol for this change in relations.

Fleifel's life outside the camp is something that is made significant from the very start of the film. His family managed to escape refugee status and travel during his youth, something which marked Fleifel very clearly. Though the film appears to be testament to his attempts to stay connected to his path and sympathetic to those who remained, it is also a cathartic attempt to understand his own position trapped between two cultures. At one point in the film he poignantly reflects about a childhood friend still trapped in the camp - "I possess a freedom that he doesn't have." The friend in question, Abu Eyad, becomes the focus of Fleifel's examination. A leader of the young men in the camp, it is his development that is one of the film's best examinations. A previous prisoner, an activist and a maverick, his presence is testament to the director's affection and worry about him.

As the film progresses the pressure of the changing political tensions in the camp takes its toll on Abu Eyad. There is a sense that he and the men that look up to him represent the conflicting inter-generational opinions on Palestine. While older men in the camp speak of returning to the "homeland", it is the young men whose interests lie elsewhere. Meaningless violence, drugs and recklessness have become the antidote to the sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness of the camp. Fleifel quotes first prime minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion - "one day the old will die and the young will forget."

This painful moment sums up the subject matter - alienation in all its forms, and the examination of that alienation on an exaggerated scale. The younger generations no longer feel the revolutionary anger of their fathers, but are trapped in a place that offers nothing of importance to gravitate to. The narrator's own confusion adds to the layers of meaning in this extraordinary film. The film is shot in a multi-chronological mixture of home videos, interviews and engaging narration. Tracking shots in the narrow streets of the refugee camp convey the chaos and isolation of the lives of those who reside there, whilst home footage carries poignant reflection on childhood misery and desire.

Fleifel has achieved something great in this film, telling a story that is personal and objective, specific and universal. Analysing his own deep-rooted issues whilst tackling a story that is complicated and tragic there is no time where the viewer is left bored or confused. No matter what their knowledge is of the Palestinian history, they will leave with an educated sense of the lives of the real people involved in this modern-day tragedy. Facts and propaganda is tossed aside in favour of realism and existence. This intimate portrayal of family life and changing relationships can be related to by anyone, but it is the unique situation that makes the film stands out.

Fleifel's honesty in his reasons for making the film is laid out from the first few moments of the film, a refreshingly grounded film-maker sharing his own self-analysis with the world. He describes his need to film as "a faint hope that I could protect the sense of belonging to something." It is unclear whether Fleifel will find this inner peace, but he can at least hold onto the fact that his film will touch many, inform more and remain in the minds of many viewers long after the credits.

Want to book a screening or learn more? Check out A World Not Ours 2014 Award for Best Film Documentary at SIMA Social Impact Media Awards
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