Netflix launches new series of Palestinian films!!

On October 14th, Netflix launched “The Palestinian Stories Collection” which includes a lineup of award-winning films by Palestinian filmmakers. The collection contains 32 films which will be available free to Netflix members in North America and around the world, with more to be added over the next few weeks. Why is Netflix doing this? Read More…

In mid-October, the US based entertainment giant Netflix announced it was adding 32 critically acclaimed films by Palestinian directors to its huge store of films available to Netflix subscribers. Netflix says the collection is “a tribute to the creativity and passion of the Arab film industry as Netflix continues to invest in stories from the Arab world”. 

The announcement is of great significance to Palestinians in Canada for two different reasons.

Palestinian “voice”

First of all, it has been extremely difficult for any Palestinian “voice” to reach the American and Canadian mainstream. Canadians wanting to watch Palestinian-made films, or films about the Palestinian struggle, have had to rely on organizations like volunteer run Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF), created in 2008. In fact, almost all of the films now available through Netflix have already been shown through the TPFF.

Netflix has offered a number of Israeli films and made for television series for several years. They are wildly popular with a secular liberal Zionist audience in America. Series like “Shteisel” and “Un-Orthodox” poke mild fun at the more extreme religious Jews. But others, including shows like “Fauda”, and “Mossad 101”, routinely show Palestinians as terrorists whose evil deeds are thwarted by brave (if ruthless) Israeli security forces.

But Palestinian voices have been absent until very recently.

Netflix senses a market opportunity

What could possibly explain this Netflix decision? Is it possible that Netflix, a giant corporation with $25 billion US in revenues annually has decided it was only “fair” to also give the Palestinians a voice? Maybe, but probably not. There is probably another explanation.

Netflix first broke its Israel-only pattern last fall, with the introduction of “The Present”, a celebrated Palestinian film which had been nominated for an Oscar. It didn’t win the Oscar, but The Present got terrific reviews, and Netflix seems to have found that there was a considerable market for Palestinian films!!!

Of course, Netflix had to know that the Israel Lobby would strongly oppose its promotion of Palestinian films. And they were right. As if on cue, Israeli organizations began complaining. “A majority of films featured in Netflix’s new “Palestinian Stories” collection were directed by supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, complained the right-wing watchdog Im Tirtzu”.

But Netflix rebuffed the accusation.“Netflix believes in artistic freedom and is continuously investing in authentic storytelling from all over the world,” it said in a statement. 

The fact that Netflix feels that there is a potential market for Palestinian films, big enough for them to ignore the complaints of the Zionist lobby, is very good news for Palestinians and a defeat for the lobby.

Putting the 32 Palestinian films on Netflix is a step change for Canadian awareness of the Palestinian story. Netflix has 74 MILLION subscribers in the US and Canada!! Its capacity to bring the Palestinian “voice” to the mainstream is huge.

Some CTIP film suggestions

There are documentaries, dramas and comedies in the new series. And while depicting and asserting Palestinian existence – whether under occupation, as a refugee, or as a discriminated minority – is inevitably a political statement, these films are also creative works worthy of viewing on their own artistic merits. Here are some of the films CTIP has seen and liked. All are subtitled in English. Let us know what you think about these and other films in the series…

  1. The Present 2020, 23 Minutes.Oscar-nominated short film about a Palestinian father and daughter in the West Bank who set out to buy an anniversary gift. Depicts the frustrations and palpable fear that Palestinians experience under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. The opening scene was filmed on location, amongst Palestinian labourers who crowd this checkpoint at 4am every day to get to jobs in Israel.
  2. The Salt of this Sea 2008, 1h 49 min. A romance drama with some comedic touches. A Palestinian American woman returns to Israel/Palestine to recover her fathers money which was left in a Palestinian bank when he was forced to flee in 1948. The opening scene, when she arrives at Ben Gurion airport and is humiliated by Israeli security is a very realistic representation of how Palestinian Americans (and Palestinian Canadians) are treated on arrival in Israel.
  3. The Children of Shatila1998, 47 min. Fifty years after their grandparents were forced to flee Palestine, two streetwise kids living in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp document stories of loss and war. Now, after another quarter-century has passed, what has changed?
  4. The Wanted 18 – 2014, 75 minutes. This is a hilarious Palestinian/Canadian animated documentary about very effective non violent resistance by Palestinians to Israeli occupation. Believe it or not, Israel declared Palestinian cows to be a security risk to Israel!!
  5. Born in Gaza, 2014, 1h9 minutes. This documentary film is a series of short biographies of Palestinian children in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s terrible attack in 2014. Painful to watch, but gives a realistic insight into the lives of individual children in Gaza.
  6. Ave Maria, 2015, 15 minutes. Oscar-nominated black comedy about five nuns whose vow of silence is disturbed when an Israeli settler family crashes its car outside their West Bank convent. Devastating ridicule of the settlers’ arrogance and misplaced fear, along with gentle pokes at the Christian church.
  7. Maradona’s Legs, 2019, 23 minutes. During the 1990 World Cup, two Palestinian boys and avid soccer fans set out to find the last missing piece of their sticker album and win an Atari. The story takes place in Israel, where legislation governing municipal planning and finance creates crowded, underserviced living conditions for many of its Palestinian citizens.
  8. Like Twenty Impossibles, 2003, 17 minutes. While navigating their way into Jerusalem, a Palestinian film crew gets stopped at an unexpected checkpoint. Their camera captures what happens as the passengers are slowly taken apart by the mundane brutality of military occupation. The first Arab short film to be chosen as an Official Selection of the Cannes International Film Festival.

The full list of 32 films is available on the Palestine Chronicle

Dialogue with the Diaspora webinar series:
Palestine’s refugee diaspora on film: can watching help?

Webinar at 8 pm ET, Thursday, Nov 18, 2021

In addition to Netflix’s anthology of Palestinian films, the Canada Palestinian Education Exchange (CEPAL) is also offering another Palestinian film (Soufra) to be followed up by a webinar. CEPAL’s zoom webinar will bring together a trio of speakers whose backgrounds all combine film and activism. The organizers plan this to be the first in a series of films/webinars for those who want to know more and go deeper

For more information click here.

CTIP invites subscribers to comment, suggesting other films to see from Netflik’s list or adding other films for Netflix to consider in the future.

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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