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Bye Bye Tiberias A hopeful by Lina Soualem - A hopeful and nostalgic ode to those we leave behind

Friday 10 November 2023, by Sally Zarzour

Bye Bye Tiberias follows Hiam Abbass, who leaves her Palestinian village of Deir Hanna, to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, leaving behind her mother, grandmother, and sisters. Abbass returns to her village, with her daughter, Lina Soualem, to explore her the history behind those four generations of women, and through that prism, the Palestinian people as a whole.

Bye Bye Tiberias is what a firm hug feels like, in the shape of a film - nostalgic, raw, powerful, and sentimental. It allows us to indulge and sit with the different ways it has left a mark. It is quite clear why Bye Bye Tiberias is Palestine’s official submission in the ’Best International Feature Film’ category at the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

Director Lina Soualem has a personal connection with the various characters in her second feature documentary; this is clear in the intricate conversations that sometimes feel too personal for us to be listening in on. The exchanges between them blend together love and humour, and encapsulates what it truly means to be Palestinian, and indeed Arab. The complication of belonging to a place you may never step foot in or see, whilst trying to navigate your way through life. The concept of being forced to build a home outside of home triggers a lingering feeling, which stays with you long after the credits roll. The longing and pain of leaving behind the ones you hold dearest to your heart in pursuit of making your dreams come true, unaware of the lifelong consequences that may follow.

Lina covers four generations of the women in her family, including her mum, the notable actress Hiam Abbas, known for her role in Gaza Mon Amour and the series Succession. By presenting history over several decades, Lina is able to portray how everything changes, yet remains the same. Bye Bye Tiberias powerfully depicts the numerous experiences these resilient Palestinian women share. In spite of exile, dispossession, and heartache, they preserve their history, heritage, and legacy through the power of their relationships.

In the scene where Hiam is battling between pursuing success as an actress and wanting to go back to her mother is one of the countless moments that really resonates with us viewers. The regular video calls with her mother promising that she will be back before she knows it remind us all of the universal need to make the most of the time we have left with the ones we love. Hiam also narrates stories of her family’s displacement, as she
stands in Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Her family’s story is one of many, representing the dispersion and forceful exile of Palestinians all over the world.

In her own lens, Lina also captures the experience of being a third-generation kid. She mentions in her Q&A how she was not intending to be a part of the film. However, the story felt incomplete without the narrative of the current generation. Bye Bye Tiberias is an encouraging story, one of uncovering the past knowing it may not lead to the answers we seek. The film emphasises the importance of archiving and maintaining our heritage and stories; of preserving them by any means possible.

Bye Bye Bye Tiberias is a compelling commemoration of existence defined by exile, banishment, and obliteration. With the current events we are witnessing, the relevance of the film shines bright for the region, encouraging us to never stop sharing our narratives.

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