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‘Farha’ Filmmakers on Social Media Backlash to Jordan’s Oscar Contender: “It Felt Very Much Like an Organized Thing”

Farah it was a classic independent film success story.

Darin J. Sallam’s low-budget drama, set in 1948, in the early days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opened in Toronto last year before touring an A-list international festival with sold-out screenings in Rome, Busan , Gothenburg and Leon. Critics loved the film and praised the story of feisty Farha, a 14-year-old girl who lives in a small Palestinian village and confronts her society’s patriarchal restrictions on young women. When Israeli forces enter the city—as part of a military action that has caused the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians and wiped dozens of Palestinian towns and villages off the map—Farha’s father locks her in a room for safety. From inside, he witnesses Israeli soldiers commit an atrocity against civilians.

Karam Taher in Farha

Karam Taher in ‘Farha’

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The festival buzzes around Farah led to a global Netflix deal through the Picture Tree International sales group. And this year, as awards season kicked off, Jordan picked the film to represent the country in the 2023 Oscar race in the Best International Feature Film category.

Then came the backlash.

“It was November 29, 48 hours before the movie came out on Netflix. [on Dec. 1]Sallam recalls. she and she Farah Producers Deema Azar and Ayah Jardaneh had just arrived in the US to start FarahThe Oscars campaign. “The moment we landed, we opened our phones and there was an explosion of emails, messages, missed calls, social media posts.”

Most were unpleasant. Some called Sallam a “Muslim terrorist”, a “Nazi” or worse. They accused their film of selling lies about the Israeli army and Middle Eastern history. An online petition was started, demanding that Netflix drop the film. Another called on people to lower Farah on IMDB.

Several prominent Israelis joined the crowd.

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Goodbye Netflix! Supporting the fake, anti-Israel film, ‘Farha,’ is unacceptable,” Jewish author and photographer Laura Ben-David tweeted, noting that she was canceling her Netflix subscription in protest. On Instagram, Israeli model Nataly Dadon called on her followers to do the same and cancel Netflix, arguing the purpose of Fahra it was to fan hatred of the Jewish people.

“This was all before the movie was on Netflix, so no one could watch it yet,” says Sallam. “But maybe two hours after the IMDB petition, we saw about 500, then 700, then thousands of people online and they gave the movie 1 star. We were in shock.”

So the politicians got involved. Israel’s Culture Minister Chili Tropper accused the film of falsely equating the actions of Israeli soldiers in 1948 with those of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Israel’s outgoing finance minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, condemned Netflix for deciding to stream the film, which he claimed was created under “a false pretext.” [to] incite against Israeli soldiers.” He suggested that Israel withdraw public funds from the Al Saraya Theater in Jaffa if it goes ahead with plans to screen the film.

Karam Taher and Ashraf Barhom in Farha

Karam Taher and Ashraf Barhom in ‘Farha’

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“Suddenly there were a lot of press articles and Israeli media repeating the same things, it felt very organized,” says producer Deema Azar. “The film had been there for over a year, touring the world, winning awards, playing everywhere. And then right before Netflix launches, at the height of the Oscars campaign, this happens. It didn’t seem like a coincidence.”

The backlash focus is almost entirely on a short scene in Fahra showing Israeli soldiers murdering a civilian family. But some have also taken issue with the film’s structure, saying that showing a teenage girl in hiding deliberately evokes the Anne Frank story and invites viewers to compare Israelis to Nazis.

sallam says THR The entire film, including the violent scene, is based on stories he has heard all his life, “my mother, my grandparents, people who lived through the Nakba,” he says, using the term, which means “catastrophe.” in Arabic, used by Palestinians to describe the events of 1948. “All the stories I heard from all the people who witnessed this, my mother, my father, my grandparents, families, friends: I put these stories together to create the world of Fahra,” she says. “But they’re all real.”

Sallam, in fact, says that the incident shown in the film is “very small compared to what happened historically.[It is] a small way to pay tribute to all the people who died and all those who lost people back then.”

She notes that while there are many movies being made about what is happening now in Palestine, there are no other movies set in 1948, “during this very specific event that was the source of so much trouble, and not just in the Arab world. ”

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Exactly how many Palestinians died during the events of 1948 and how is a matter of furious historical debate. Israeli director Alon Schwarz faced a huge backlash this year for his documentary the tantrumwhich uses eyewitness testimony and recorded confessions of Israeli soldiers at the time to document the alleged Nakba massacre of Palestinians in a Mediterranean coastal town.

Darin J. Sallam on the set of Fahra

Darin J. Sallam on the set of ‘Fahra’

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“I find it surreal that people could be denying the Nakba,” says Sallam, whose family fled Palestine to Jordan in 1948. “Because to deny the Nakba is to deny my very existence.”

Netflix declined to comment on the film or the backlash, only noting in an email to THR that Fahra was “an acquisition” and not a Netflix Original.

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“We have not contacted Netflix, but their response was very clear, because the movie is on their platform, they screened it, which means a lot to us,” he says. Fahra Producer Ayah Jardaneh. “That meant a huge amount of support for us. We are grateful for their bravery.”

If the goal of Fahra’s opponents was to prevent people from seeing the film, it seems to have failed. The December 1 screening at the Al Saraya Theater in Jaffa went ahead as planned. Since its run on Netflix, the film’s IMDB rating has rebounded; it currently sits at a stellar 8.6 out of 10.

“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support the film is receiving globally and we are grateful to everyone who is doing their part to stand up to this attack and ensure the film is talked about and seen,” the filmmakers said in a statement. release. “The film exists, we exist and we will not be silenced.”

Fahra will be screened at the Park Avenue Screening Room in New York on Friday, December 9 at 2 pm. The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers.


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