Palestinian movie Pomegranates and Myrrh is worth the wait

The Palestinian director Najwa Najjar talks about the financial and political difficulties she encountered with her debut feature film, Pomegranates and Myrrh.
Najwa Najjar, right, with the actor Ali Suleiman on the set of Pomegranates and Myrrh.
Najwa Najjar, right, with the actor Ali Suleiman on the set of Pomegranates and Myrrh.

When Pomegranates and Myrrh is screened in public cinemas in Dubai for the first time a week tomorrow, and in Abu Dhabi afterwards, it will mark almost three years since the film received its world premiere at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival. But for the Palestinian director, Najwa Najjar, it will be nearly a decade since the project - her debut feature - first got off the ground.

Numerous issues held the production back, from the typical problems of finding the necessary funding for an independent film to the almost immeasurable and unpredictable difficulties of working within the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

At one stage, after the casting had been made and finances sourced from Europe and Kuwait, the political situation was such that she had to call a halt to everything, sending the actors and crew home and returning the money that had been given.

"I was close to giving it up," says Najjar. "But a producer told me that we had started something that had to be finished."

Thankfully, although she filmed several documentaries and a short in the meantime, Najjar didn't give up on Pomegranates and Myrrh. The film, following its premiere in Dubai, went on to light up the world, with numerous screenings and awards at international festivals and even an impressive number of theatrical releases, becoming one of the most acclaimed productions to come out of Palestine. "It's amazing that so many people got to see my film, and it still makes my heart jump to think about it," says Najjar. "After all the difficulties and dramas, the great response really is the icing on the cake. But it was Dubai that helped give it that boost."

Set in Ramallah, the film sees an aspiring dancer (played by Yasmine Al Massri, recently seen in Miral) watch her husband jailed by the Israeli army as he protests against the confiscation of his olive groves. With her life in turmoil and numerous obstacles standing in the way of the family's legal case, she turns to dance and is drawn ever closer to her choreographer Kais (Ali Suleiman). It's a relatively slow-paced, emotional film that cleverly intertwines the political backdrop within a romantic drama. Najjar's next feature, however, sounds anything but.

"It's going to be a political thriller, inspired by a real-life story and about a father with a dark secret who searches for his son." With the working title Eyes of a Thief, the film is again going to be filmed in Palestine. And Najjar says the success of Pomegranates has certainly helped its development. "I had a producer on board even before I had a script."

The project got a boost in December when it was selected as one of 12 to take part in a Sundance Film Festival screenwriter's lab held in Utah earlier this year.

"There's a big cast," says Najjar, adding that some of the names from her first feature may reappear.

With production planned to begin next spring, Najjar hopes the film might be finished in time for next year's round of film festivals.

But as very little can be predicted in the West Bank, especially with the potential of a UN vote on Palestinian statehood in September, Najjar remains cautious.

"I just hope it doesn't take seven years to make this time."

Pomegranates and Myrrh is being shown at The Picturehouse, Reel Cinemas, Dubai from September 1-14, and at Vox Cinemas, Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi, from September 15-28

Published: August 23, 2011 04:00 AM


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