by Andrew Lapin
(JTA) — Some of Netflix’s biggest international hits of the last few years — from “Fauda” to “Shtisel” — have been Israeli imports. Now, the streaming giant is spotlighting Palestinian entertainment, as well.
Last week, Netflix released a “Palestinian Stories” collection consisting of what it said was 32 films, although only 27 films were listed under the category in the U.S. as of Monday. Of the available selections, which span the last couple of decades, 12 of them are short films.
A mix of drama, comedy and documentary, many of the films focus on relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, particularly the Israeli military; a few also incorporate American Jews into their plots. Most, but not all, are from Palestinian directors; several were made with the participation and cooperation of Israelis. At least one director is from a Jewish family. Netflix said more Palestinian films would eventually be added to the service.
Palestinian filmmakers welcomed the opportunity to give their stories a wider platform. “We all in the Palestinian film industry have been eager to share our narrative with the world through our authentic creative productions as an alternative to news reporting,” said May Odeh, director of ‘The Crossing,” in a Netflix news release.
Netflix added that the collection would “showcase the depth and diversity of the Palestinian experience.”
Here are a few of the noteworthy entries available in the U.S.:
- “Omar,” directed by Hany Abu-Asad, was nominated for the 2013 Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar — the second Palestinian film to be nominated in the category, after Abu-Asad’s own “Paradise Now,” and the first to be identified as originating from “Palestine” rather than “Palestinian Territories.” It’s a drama about a Palestinian baker who becomes a militant and must make deals with the Israeli government while behind bars.
- “Ave Maria,” a satirical short film directed by Basil Kahlil, was nominated for the 2016 Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar; its plot follows a family of religious Israeli settlers whose car breaks down in the West Bank, forcing them to depend on a group of nuns for help. (Another Palestinian short film on Netflix, 2020’s “The Present,” was also nominated for an Oscar.)
- “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention” are the first two feature films by the acclaimed director Elia Suleiman, who is often hailed as an heir to Buster Keaton for his largely silent comic vignettes and his deadpan acting as a fictionalized version of himself. “Divine Intervention,” from 2002, was the first-ever Palestinian film submitted to the Oscars, and, after considerable controversy over whether the Academy considered “Palestine” qualified to submit an entry, was accepted for consideration (though not nominated).
- A handful of selections are directed by women, including 2014’s “Mars at Sunrise,” directed by Jessica Habie, a former West Bank resident born in Florida who identifies as being from a “Jewish-Arab family with a Guatemalan ancestry.” The film follows the relationship between a Palestinian artist and a Jewish-American poet as the artist reveals a traumatic incident from a run-in with an Israeli soldier.
- Five films are by director Mahdi Fleifel, who was raised in the Ein el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (and whose production company is named Nakba Filmworks). Felifel’s filmography is a mix of dramas and documentaries about life among Palestinian refugees in Greece and Lebanon: “3 Logical Exits,” “A Drowning Man,” “A Man Returned,” “Xenos” and “A World Not Ours.”
- “Ghost Hunting,” directed by Raed Andoni, is a documentary in which former Palestinian prisoners of Israel reenact their detentions for the camera.
- “Giraffada,” a family-oriented animal caper directed by Rani Massalha, follows the adventures of a Palestinian veterinarian and his son as they convince an Israeli vet to help them smuggle a giraffe from Tel Aviv to the West Bank so it can find a breeding partner.
For those looking for even more films from the region, today the Israeli Film Archive in Jerusalem launched a digital version of its collection, making thousands of films — from a mix of Israeli and Palestinian directors, some dating as far back as 1928 — available online. The vast majority of these films are short historical documentaries about life in Israel; about 250 of them are narrative feature films. Most of the documentaries can be streamed for free from the archive’s website; a select few films are pay-to-rent.
Among the films spotlighted in the archive are collections spotlighting major international hits from Israel and innovative Israeli directors like Amos Gitai. The “Historical View” category of the archive contains a host of short videos cataloging everything from workers in factories to beachgoers at the Red Sea.
The archive has said that its entire digital collection will be available in North America, though a perusal of the platform on Monday revealed that several of its films were still unavailable to stream from the U.S. Several of the films that are available to stream do not have English subtitles, and unfortunately there is no easy way to navigate through the ones that do.