A World Not Ours, Mahdi Fleifel’s first feature documentary, had its first screening in the Middle East on Monday night at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The low-budget film is a personal documentary on Ain Al Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in the south of Lebanon, where Fleifel’s family comes from.
Narrated by Fleifel himself, the film tells the stories of his family and friends, how they ended up in the camp and the kind of hardships they faced. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are denied the right to work and their movement is monitored by the Lebanese army.
The Dubai-born director lived in the UAE until the age of seven before moving back to the camp with his family. A year and a half later they migrated to Denmark, allowing Fleifel to give up his refugee status. However, Fleifel was always going back to see his friends, grandparents and uncle.
“It’s like a family place we kept going back for holidays,” he said.
Fleifel had been filming in the camps for as long as he could remember something that had been passed on to him from his late father.
“My father had always been filming in our house and family and so I picked up that habit or hobby or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I was always recording and collecting material and then I realised that I had been filming so much that maybe there’s a story there, so it came together.”
The idea to really put the footage into a documentary started in 2000, he said. “Then I really went for it in 2010, shot the main bulk of the film and then came back and edited most of it over two years and finished this year.”
The story, he said, came together after looking at footage from years of filming.
“We never doubted there was a story there. It was like sculpting a piece,” he said.
Asked what take-home message he wanted for his audience, Fleifel said that he was just telling a story.
“For me it was more to keep a record of my family history that was the main thing for me. If I could share that experience that I’ve had with others then that was enough, but I never wanted to send out a message.”
Fleifel want a screening of the documentary in Lebanon.
“I think this film is for the Lebanese,” he said.
Supported by the ADFF, Fleifel said he was happy to be back in the UAE with this film.
“So far the film is doing really well. We had a terrific opening in Toronto and now we’re coming here and showing it. It’s been a beautiful experience.”
A World Not Ours is scheduled to screen at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival.