The Present Director Farah Nabulsi, “Apartheid is alive and kicking”

Quanda Graves talks with the talented director Farah Nabulsi, about her award winning film The Present.

Farah Nabulsi’s The Present is heartwarmingly stirring: It’s about a family who must pass through a segregated and alarming checkpoint just to buy their weekly groceries. It is charging and captivatingly sad. The Present shows us that while we can just take a drive or walk to our stores without a scratch for so much as a snack, that is a mere luxury compared to others who may have that same simple task, but for them, unfortunately, it is or can be dauntingly outrageous. 

The Present not only sparks you to have compassion and understanding but leaves you to be feeling grateful about how good you have it or how blessed you really are. This film is a must see. 

Wow! The Present. Such an original story, how did you come up with the concept of this movie?

At its essence, the movie is about freedom of movement. It’s one of the most basic human rights, that most people take for granted, but in Palestine there’s over 130 Israeli military checkpoints, another 100 or so ‘flying’ check points (that means they can appear anytime, anywhere), curfews, separate roads, a convoluted permit and ID system, the separation wall and of course the inhumane blockade of Gaza. These control mechanisms are all an assault on this basic human right of freedom of movement.

At its essence, the movie is about freedom of movement.

So, I wrote the story based on my own experiences at these checkpoints, witnessing other Palestinians at checkpoints and discussing with those who have to deal with this whole complex everyday, including one particular young man I’ve gotten to know over the years in Hebron. He lives on a road with a checkpoint on it that he literally has to pass through anytime he wants to see anyone, go anywhere or get anything.

What part of this story motivated and inspired you the most to want to tell it?

I think the absurdity of it all and how it’s based on reality. This idea that a simple shopping trip can turn into something so absurd and even life threatening. The absurdity that in this day and age, in the 21st century, Apartheid is alive and kicking. That based on someone’s ethnicity they are relegated to separate roads and treatment. It’s a fiction film, but it’s based on a cruel reality that does exist on the ground today in Palestine – and that certainly motivated me to want to tell the story. 

The actors that brought your story to life, how did you know they were right for their parts?

Maryam Kanj, who plays the role of young Yasmine, is this strong, bright and beautiful girl who is not a trained actress and hardly had any experience, but who I fell in love with the minute I met. Her smile, her big expressive eyes, her confident personality around adults as well as strangers, but most of all it was her high emotional intelligence that really struck me and was needed for this role. I also wanted a child who would also facially resemble something of her father in the film (Saleh Bakri), which she really does! Even though I auditioned a number of young child actresses after I met Maryam, my instincts told me I was just going through the motions. I knew she was the one within 5 minutes of meeting her. 

In terms of the main actor, Saleh Bakri, who plays Yusef, he’s a brilliant and seasoned actor who has starred in a number of successful independent feature films. When I wrote the story, he was the actor that kept coming into my mind who I felt would be perfect for the role. I didn’t know him personally, but the world conspired. When I started to co-write the actual script a bit later with Hind Shoufani, she asked me who I envisaged in my mind for the role. I told her ‘Saleh Bakri’ and it turned out she knew him, so the introduction was made. 

Saleh Bakri, who plays Yusef, he’s a brilliant and seasoned actor who has starred in a number of successful independent feature films

Saleh is a sensitive soul who immediately understood the character, could relate as a Palestinian, and appreciated the simplicity of the story. 

(Two Parted Question) -Congratulations are in order for this being your first directed film in which you co-wrote. Congratulations!!! Now, receiving so much positive feedback and collecting so many awards and being OSCAR worthy. How has this been for you? Is it surprising or is it too early to sort out your feelings as you’re still taking it all in?

Thank you! It’s great of course – wonderful! More than I could have imagined, but of course a bit surreal and a touch bitter-sweet, as most of it has taken place from my living room couch, due to Covid19, but in the bigger scheme of things, I really can’t complain. As a filmmaker, I’m so grateful for the reception the film has been receiving from both audiences and juries. I’m also so glad that a story that has a deeper meaning and message is resonating with people.

As a filmmaker, I’m so grateful for the reception the film has been receiving from both audiences and juries.

Can you tell me what’s next for you?

Sure! I have written a feature length fiction film screenplay. It’s a character-driven, drama-thriller that every bone in my body wants and hopes to direct. So, I’m basically in development and working on trying to make that happen.

What is your favorite quote or mantra that has helped you get to where you are now?

Mantra-wise, it would be “Feel the fear and do it anyway!” (It’s the title of a book I read a long time ago and it stuck!)

In terms of a quote, it would probably be: Charles Bukowski, “If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it!”

Where can people see and learn more about the film?

The Present is currently screening at various film festivals around the world. It will also have its UK and South America premieres in November. These are the festivals it will be screening at during November that I can mention for now. If anyone wants to stay posted on the film and future screenings, myself and The Present have accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. 

  • Aesthetica Short Film Festival, UK
  • 34th Leeds International Film Festival, UK (Nov 3 -19) 
  • HollyShorts in LA, USA (Nov 9-15)
  • 38th Sulmona International Film Festival, Italy (Nov 4-7)
  • 33rd Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, USA (Nov 13-21)
  • 29th Sequence International Short Film Festival, France (Nov 18-22) 
  • Ajyal Film Festival, Qatar (Nov 11-23)
  • Kanaan Film Festival, Vienna, Austria (Nov 30-Dec 3)
  • UK Film Festival (Nov 22-29)
  • Crossing the Screen Film Festival, UK (Nov 26-29)
  • Edinburgh Short Film Festival, UK (Nov 7-15)
  • London Palestine Film Festival, UK (Nov 13-26)

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