Jordanian director Darin J. Sallam and producers Deema Azar and Ayeh Jadaneh have accused Israel of mounting a disinformation campaign against their film Farha and also rebuked the country for attempting to get it removed from theatres and Netflix.
The film is set in 1948, in the early days of the Israel-Palestinian conflict which saw scores of Palestinian towns and villages wiped off the map, while some 700,000 people fled the territory.
The picture’s titular protagonist Farha is a feisty 14-year-old girl living in a Palestinian village whose father locks her in a room for safety when fighting breaks out, from where she witnesses an atrocity via its small window.
The picture, which world premiered in Toronto’s Discovery section in 2021 and has since played a raft of other festivals including the Busan, Red Sea and Malmo, is Jordan’s Best International Film Oscar entry this year.
Following its release on Netflix on December 1, the film has been the target of an Israeli government-led campaign to keep it off screens in Israel and a public campaign to boycott the platform if it does not remove the title from its offering.
Israeli media reported last week that Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman had threatened to withdraw state funding for the Al Saraya Theater in Jaffa unless it cancelled plans to screen the film.
He also levelled criticism at Netflix in his statement on why he was ordering the removal of the funding.
“To me, it is ridiculous that Netflix chose to release a film whose entire purpose is an inciting mockery against IDF soldiers, but the choice of a cultural institution funded by the State of Israel to screen the above-mentioned film is already unacceptable.
The move came after Culture Minister Chili Tropper accused the film of making “false plots against IDF soldiers”, saying the fact “it describes the massacre of a family while comparing it to the behavior of the Nazis in the Holocaust, is particularly outrageous.”
Their comments prompted a grassroots, public campaign calling on people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions.
Farha director Sallam told a Deadline International Contenders event on Saturday that the film is inspired by the real-life experience of a refugee woman who had ended up in Syria, where she had told the story to her mother.
Sallam and producers Azar and Jadaneh at Amaan-based TaleBox have put out a statement regarding the Israeli criticisms of the film.
“Our film has been aggressively attacked by Israeli government officials, Israeli media as well as by Israeli individuals on social media and other platforms,” it read.
“We, the film’s team, condemn all the accusations to discredit Farha, the organized campaign against the film on IMDb.com to drastically lower its rating, the attempts to shut down the screening of the film yesterday in Saraya Yaffa Theater and the threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions should the film start streaming on the platform.”
“We also condemn the onslaught of hateful messages, harassment, accusations and bullying by Israelis that are targeting the film’s director on social media and on other outlets. We will not condone any harmful threats to any member of Farha’s team.”
They added that they felt the attacks had been timed to damage the film’s performance as it launched on Netflix as well as its Oscar campaign.
“These attempts to silence our voices as Semite/Arabs and as women filmmakers to dehumanize us and prevent us from telling our stories, our narrative and our truth are against any freedom of speech, continued the statement.
“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support the film is receiving globally and are grateful to everyone who is doing their part to stand up against this attack and ensure the film is spoken about and seen.
“All the campaigning against Farha will not deter us from our goal which is to share the film and the story it tells with audiences worldwide. The film exists, we exist, and we will not be silenced.”