Home > Reviews > Features > Storytelling at its finest: Fadia’s Tree directed by Sarah Beddington

Storytelling at its finest: Fadia’s Tree directed by Sarah Beddington

Wednesday 23 November 2022, by Abla Kandalaft, Anne-Sophie Marie

Dreaming of a homeland she is denied, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, sets a challenge to find an ancient tree that stands as witness to her family’s existence, guided only by inherited memories, a blind man and a two-headed dragon. Sarah Beddington’s first feature film is the result of over a decade of filming and years of editing, in collaboration with her producer Susan Simnett. The story of Fadia and her search is interspersed with footage of bird migration and interviews with Israeli and Palestinian ornithologists, as both strands dovetail beautifully to tell a story of migration, displacement and homesickness.

Sarah met Fadia by chance. The Palestinian woman initiated a conversation in a Beirut cafe and soon after, invited the visual artist to spend a couple of weeks with her in Burj Al-Barajneh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

There are many layers to this film, all interwoven elegantly and seamlessly. Short cartographic or animated segments display basic and factual information tracing the history of how and why Fadia has ended up there - Franco-British colonisation in the Middle East, the Balfour declaration, the Nakba, the Right of Return, the generations of diasporic Palestinians and so on.

Fadia’s Tree sits alone amongst the many documentary feature films about Palestinian displacement. It is a rare, poetic film, which blends the very best elements of storytelling and masterful editing to tell a more esoteric and somehow optimistic account of displacement and migration, through the very personal story of Fadia and they migratory journeys of the birds flying over Palestinian land. Evocative sequences of contrasting images - the separation wall, the tight web of dangerously exposed live wires hanging overhead in the camp, the looming buildings vs the open skies, the whirling flight of birds, the sea - paint a thousand pictures of seemingly abstract concepts, yearning for home, belonging, living in purgatory, that are all too concrete to the likes of Fadia.

Producer Susan Simnett took part in a Q&A after the screening of the film at ActOne Cinema in Acton, London. She informed us that Fadia had in fact seen the film and was keeping a close eye on its reception. Thanks to its universal scope and intimate moments, her moving story also serves as a deeply personal initiation to audiences who might otherwise not be familiar with the timeline of Palestinian history.

Fadia’s Tree was nominated for a BIFA.

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