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A Short Film About Kids: Bethlehem-based Ibrahim Handal on his second ClermontFF entry

Friday 22 March 2024, by Abla Kandalaft

Four kids from the refugee camp in Bethlehem decide to visit the sea for the first time in their life. Ibrahim Handal is a cinematographer and filmmaker living in Bethlehem, who graduated in Cinematography in 2019 from Dar Al-Kalima University. His previous short film Bethlehem 2001 was also selected by the Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival. Yet again, Ibrahim offers a sensitive, eye-opening glimpse into Palestinian daily life, this time through the prism of an incredibly likeable cast of young children.

Second year at Clermont! Congratulations! Why did you choose to look at this story through the prism of children?

Thank you! It’s great to be selected again, and to be able to attend physically this time! To be fully honest with you, children are the most honest, creative and purely imaginative amongst us, so the story could only be told through their eyes, desire and personal needs, as in reality, they have never seen the sea. Every day, they dream of reaching it. They can’t see or visit it because of the hard reality that we live in Palestine. These kids live in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, which is a very small place with many narrow buildings and tight streets. They can even hear their next door neighbours talk and laugh as they are cooking. So, telling a story of these 4 kids from a refugee camp and their true desire to visit the sea is a very simple human need.

How did you cast them?

Luckily, Wisam Al Jafari a close friend of mine was working on a film workshop with kids from refugee camps in Bethlehem. As he was teaching and showing them films, these 4 kids developed a very simple idea about themselves visiting the sea for the first time, and they wanted to be the main actors in the film! Wisam was also the main coordinator on a film project run between Dar Al Kalima and CineFabrique, as they invited me to work with them as post-graduate student. Wisam shared the idea the kids had come up with with me, and we already had our cast!

How straightforward was it to shoot? What were the biggest hurdles?

The deadline given by Dar Al Kalima and CineFabrique was a very specific, which put me under pressure to develop the idea into a script in 3 days!! And surprisingly, we only had one day for pre-production, so it was a very short time to prepare and film a short but luckily, despite the fact I am not from a refugee camp and with my humble experience as a cinematographer, I know from personal experience how to portrait the soul of the camp, which I had experienced during my time with Wisam Al Jafari shooting the films Ambience in 2019 and By the Sea in 2021. And we had those four excited kids, who were going to act for the first time in their lives in a film based on their ideas, so it was a mix of some pain and joy.

Since your previously selected shorts, including Bethlehem 2001, for which we interviewed you, has it been easier for you to make films? What has it given you, having films in festivals?

Oh, I think it’s never been an easy thing to make a film! It’s always been a challenge when it comes to work on low/nano budget films but these films teach me a lot, especially as a DOP!

Maybe it’s a little bit odd to know that I am a DOP and am more interested in this role than that of a director. Even when I’m directing my own films, I find a lot of joy in exploring a particular vision I have, as I am a very visual person. I have nothing to lose and there is no specific rule for people regarding how to become a DOP. Even if there was, I would break it! I have to build my own career, as I won’t get that much work given the low amount of films being produced in Palestine, compounded by the Covid effect, despite my films being shown in great festivals like Cannes, Locarno, Clermont-Ferrand, and many others, as well as virtual screenings, but this doesn’t necessarily change anything on the ground.

Tell us about your collaborations, you’ve been working with Wisam Al Jafari, with Dima Hamdan, Muayad Alayan... How do you all work together? Is there much collaboration between the current generation of Palestinian filmmakers?

I have been lucky to know these amazing and creative people, and be part of their projects. Each one has been search a learning curve. Luckily, my first feature experience was on Muayad Alayan’s second feature film, which was such an eye-opening experience. I learned so much more about cinematography, as I was working in the light department. Muayad and I became friends, as he has been mentoring me and giving me feedback. Wisam and I were colleagues at Dar Al Kalima, and collaborated with him on Ambience and then on his second short By the Sea. Conversely, he has helped me with my personal projects, so it’s been mutually beneficial.

When Dima Hamdan approached me to work on her short film Blood like Water, she was looking for a cinematographer. She sent me her script and I sent her my notes. This was such a unique opportunity to work on a very delicate, sensitive and haunting film, and we developed a wonderful friendship.

What did you make of this 2024 edition of the Clermont film festival? What were your highlights?

Being selected for the second time in Clermont, a wonderful place to show my humble film A Short Film About Kids, is a great opportunity. It was better to experience it physically than virtually. Currently, I am finalising my upcoming film Cinema, Mon Amour, which is a huge collaboration between me and Wisam, as co-writers, co-producers, and co-directors, although I kept the DOP role to myself! I was able to meet many festival programmers, and tell them about the new film project. I hope it will see the light very soon!

Any message or comments?


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