Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Blog

By Eddie Bejarano
Fall Interns, 2014

Villa Touma is a drama based in Ramallah and tells the story of lively eighteen-year-old orphan Badia, whose arrival at the Ramallah home of her three aunts releases a deluge of family secrets and long-held grudges. Suha Arraf, the film’s director, wanted viewers to “see another face of the Palestinians – not as martyrs, fighters, and suicide bombers … I’d like them to have seen the normal Palestinian person, and feel the pain these women felt.” The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2014 but controversy overshadowed the film’s premiere.

The controversy emerged as a result of Arraf registering the film as Palestinian, instead of Israeli. As an Arab Israeli with Palestinian roots, Ms. Arraf felt that as the director she exercised the right to register the film according to the nationality that she identifies with. In defense of her decision, Arraf wrote, “I am an Arab, a Palestinian, and a citizen of the State of Israel. I have a right to emphasize my nationality as I present my film to the world, and there is no law in the State of Israel that forbids me from doing so.”

However, the films three Israeli investors, the Israeli Culture and Sports Ministry, the National Lottery, and the Economy Ministry, want Arraf to return the Israeli public funds that were used to create the film. Arraf’s detractors believe that since Israeli funds financed the film, then it should be registered as Israeli, not Palestinian. Arraf rebuked claims that films should claim the nationality of those who provide funding. “Films belong to those who create them. They never belong to the foundations that helped fund them, and they certainly never belong to countries,” Arraf stated. Moreover, Arraf convincingly noted that “while many films by Jewish Israelis are funded by European foundations, they are identified as Israeli.”

Following the film’s negative reception in Israel, Arraf feels that she has been vilified and deemed a “criminal.” She also believes that the recent violence between Israel and Gaza influenced peoples’ reaction to her film.

Historically, Palestinian films have portrayed their characters as heroes or victims, but Arraf wanted her film to differentiate itself by presenting her characters as ordinary people. Arraf believes that Palestinian directors are expected to make films that focus on the plight of Palestinians. According to one review of the film, Villa Touma succeeded in distinguishing itself from preexisting Palestinian movies. Deborah Young, a writer for the Hollywood Reporter, acknowledged that, “it’s a welcome change to see a film about Palestine that doesn’t directly deal with war.” Uniquely, the cast of Villa Touma consist entirely of Palestinian women.

Despite the film’s controversy, it has been screened at various major international film festivals. It initially screened at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, September 1, and September 6. It last played at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 8, and 14.