Farah Nabulsi: Palestinian investment banker turned activist filmmaker shines light on Nakba

1 / 3
Born and raised in the UK to Palestinian parents, Farah Nabulsi studied business in London and became an institutional equity stock broker at JP Morgan Chase before turning to film. (Supplied)
2 / 3
Born and raised in the UK to Palestinian parents, Farah Nabulsi studied business in London and became an institutional equity stock broker at JP Morgan Chase before turning to film. (Supplied)
3 / 3
Born and raised in the UK to Palestinian parents, Farah Nabulsi studied business in London and became an institutional equity stock broker at JP Morgan Chase before turning to film. (Supplied)
Updated 15 May 2019

Farah Nabulsi: Palestinian investment banker turned activist filmmaker shines light on Nakba

  • British-Palestinian filmmaker has not looked back since swapping her business suits and briefcases for cameras and film scripts

DUBAI: Farah Nabulsi had started out on a clear career path. Born and raised in the UK to Palestinian parents, she studied business in London and became an institutional equity stock broker at JP Morgan Chase.
But life changed totally, she said, after she visited Palestine and witnessed the everyday indignities that Palestinians endure.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks how colossal this injustice is, and how 1948 is happening right now in the present day,” Nabulsi told Arab News, referring to the exodus of several hundred thousand Palestinians when Israel was established on their homeland.
“That experience and first-hand knowledge changed me. I knew that charity and sympathy were certainly not enough.”

Nabulsi swapped her business suits and briefcases for cameras and film scripts. She took it upon herself to shed light on the injustices meted out to Palestinians since their mass displacement in 1948, known to Palestinians as the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe).
“With one foot in the West — having been born, raised and educated in London — and the other — my heritage, the blood running through my veins — in Palestine, I recognized the unique and rather powerful position I was in, so I changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.
The change was a big one, but the British-Palestinian filmmaker has not looked back ever since, saying the shift has been “absolutely liberating.”

So far, Nabulsi has made three short films on Palestine. One of them, “Today They Took My Son,” follows a mother as she copes with the trauma of her young son being taken away by the Israeli military.
It was named an Official Selection at the Edinburgh Short Film Festival in 2016, and was a finalist at the International Short Film Competition at the USA Film Festival in 2017.
The other films, “Oceans of Injustice” and “Nightmare of Gaza,” have similar themes of Israeli prejudices against, and abuses of, Palestinians.


“What I do is painful, raw and exhausting. But the satisfaction that I’m doing something with meaning — giving voice to the silenced, playing my part in informing and educating with the aim of ending injustice, and being able to use my creativity and my emotional IQ while doing that — has been a blessing I’m truly grateful for,” Nabulsi said.
“I have children of my own, and the very idea of a child being taken — usually in the middle of the night by armed soldiers, with no parent or adult with them, processed through a military system and subjected to all sorts of abuses — is just insane,” she added. “That (‘Today They Took My Son’) was a film I didn’t choose to make. I had to make it.”

Nabulsi is working on her fourth short film, “The Present,” which features Israeli-Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri.
“It’s a beautiful story of a Palestinian father and his young daughter dealing with the indignities of checkpoints,” she said. “I’m looking forward to completing it and sharing it with the world.”


From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

Zain Al-Rafeea spoke to Arab News about his role in ‘The Eternals.’ (File/AFP)
Updated 45 min 46 sec ago

From Syria to stardom: Zain Al-Rafeea sheds light on his Hollywood highlights

LOS ANGELES: A child is forced to leave home to escape a terrible fate. Growing up in a strange land, he develops a special talent and achieves greatness.

It is a familiar story that could describe the lives of a host of superheroes. But it also applies to refugee and actor Zain Al-Rafeea, and his courageous journey from Syria to stardom.

Al-Rafeea was born in 2004. His family fled the Syrian conflict when he was eight, moving to Lebanon, where they were forced to find shelter in the slums of Beirut.

“Unfortunately, refugees face harsh conditions in Lebanon because the country has so many of them,” Al-Rafeea told Arab News. “I never thought I would be an actor or a famous person. I just dreamt of being safe with my family and that nothing bad would happen to them. I was focusing on making money to support my parents.”

In late 2017, Al-Rafeea’s life was changed by a chance encounter with Jennifer Haddad, casting director and collaborator of acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki.

“I was in the street with a group of friends. I saw Jennifer, and she asked me if I would like to act. My first reaction was like ‘OK, I have no problem with that.’ She took a video of me, sent it to Nadine and things went on from there.”

Labaki cast Al-Rafeea as the lead in her 2018 drama “Capernaum.” The film was a hit, and the young actor’s performance was lauded by both audiences and critics.

“I did not imagine in my wildest dreams that I have such an international success,” Al-Rafeea said. “I just thought of it as an acting experience, but things went in a much better direction.”

In November, it was announced that Al-Rafeea will join the cast of Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals.” The film tells the story of a race of immortal aliens who lived on Earth in secret, and features A-list stars such as Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.

“The introduction happened through Nadine. Directors and producers from Hollywood talked to her and she put us in touch,” Al-Rafeea said.

The actor met his fellow cast members on the Canary Islands during the early stages of filming. “They were nice and their welcome to me was very sweet,” he said. “They invited me for lunch and we chatted for hours, I felt so happy.

“When we finished the first day’s shooting, Salma Hayek came up and hugged me. That night she gave me an iPad and iPhone, and we chatted and listened to music together.”

The teenage star couldn’t reveal much about his role in “The Eternals,” only that he joins the “alien heroes as a human who can speak a mysterious 7,000-year-old language.”

Life in the Beirut slums is a thing of the past for the Al-Rafeea family. With their son’s success, they were able to relocate to Norway.

“It is a perfect country, the people are so calm, and there are no fights or even traffic. Having water and electricity all the time is a great thing.” While he is excited about his new home, Al-Rafeea has not forgotten his friends, family and the home he left behind in Syria.

“Work hard for nothing is impossible — look what happened to me,” Al-Rafeea said in a message to children facing situations like the one he endured. “Simply dream big.”

“The Eternals” is due to be released in the US on Nov. 6, 2020. A Middle Eastern premiere date is yet to be announced.