It has been six years coming, but finally the world is going to get to see the second film from Najwa Najjar.
Back in 2008, the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) gave this emerging Palestinian filmmaker, known at the time for a number of well-received short dramas and documentaries, the world premiere of her debut feature, Pomegranates and Myrrh.
An emotional family drama set in Ramallah with the Israeli occupation as an ever-present and disruptive backdrop, Pomegranates went on to travel the world, racking up more than 80 festival appearances, plus an impressive collection of awards. This was followed by a number of international theatrical releases and proved to be an exciting first introduction, instantly propelling Najjar into the limelight as a regional name to look out for.
Much time has passed since 2008. DIFF, then just five, will be celebrating its 11th birthday this December. The Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which gave Pomegranates the Best Arab Film award, no longer exists.
But thankfully, the long wait for the follow-up is drawing to a close.
Eyes of a Thief, a psychological drama that is set, once again, in the West Bank and begins at the height of the Palestinian uprising in 2002 before leaping to current times, wrapped up shooting last year. And with the editing now complete, the film is finally ready for audience approval.
“It’s a psychological thriller about a father with a dangerous secret searching for his daughter,” says Najjar.
At the Cannes Film Festival, the film was picking up sizeable interest from international sales agents. The film has co-producers from Algeria and Iceland and several Icelandic crew members were in Palestine for the 25-day shoot.
“We shot mostly in Nablus and every single night there were incursions from the Israelis,” says Najjar, highlighting an issue few filmmakers around the world have to deal with. “I remember that there was this gunfire and the crew from abroad asked us what was going on and we were like: ‘Oh, it’s just a wedding.’ We said it jokingly, but of course it’s a huge responsibility. You have to make sure everyone’s safe – that’s why we prepared for about a month with all the necessary factions.”
Apart from the concern of living under occupation, the most worrying situation for Najjar was actually getting her main actor, the Egyptian star Khaled Abol Naga, into the West Bank.
“It’s very hard to bring an Arab actor into the country and Khaled’s permission was eventually delayed by two weeks,” she says. “We were already in pre-production and didn’t know whether he would be able to make it. As time went on, my producer went to Khaled – who was waiting in Jordan – and said that it wasn’t looking good. He called me up and said he was still hopeful. Two days later, the permission finally came through. You should have heard the yelling and screaming from the cast and crew when we heard.”
Alongside the Icelandic crew members, Najjar included 11 Palestinian heads of department in the production. “We’re building an industry!” she exclaims. “They had no prior experience, but were like soldiers. They were willing to give their life for the movie.”
Najjar is currently waiting to hear back to see where Eyes of a Thief will have its world premiere, which is likely to happen at one of the major film festivals coming up in the next few months.
“If the situation in Palestine permits, we’re hoping to have our home opening there in August,” she says .
And while nothing has been confirmed, fans in the UAE should keep their eyes open. The film received a portion of its funding from the Dubai Film Connection, something that might well see it travel to DIFF this December.
Let’s just hope there isn’t another six-year wait before Najjar pays a visit. DIFF 17 seems like a lifetime away.