CAIRO: During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), thousands of volunteers transcended national borders and traveled to Spain, to fight alongside the Republicans against General Franco and his Nationalist forces.
Among the many Arab volunteers who took part in this war was Jerusalem-born communist and writer Najati Sidqi — who, in the course of his political activism, saw his family of three children and his wife (a Ukrainian Jew) — scatter across the globe.
Sidqi’s story, and that of his eldest daughter Dawlat — who was sent to an orphanage in Moscow when both her parents were imprisoned in the early 1930s, and was only reunited with her family in Beirut at the age of 26 — are at the heart of Egyptian filmmaker Amal Ramsis’ documentary film “You Come from Far Away,” currently touring the festival circuit.
The film is a portrait of this Arab family and its life-long diaspora as a consequence of the Spanish Civil War and other 20th-century conflicts, including World War II, the Palestinian Nakba, and the Lebanese Civil War.
Ramsis tells Sidqi’s story through extensive interviews with Dawlat (based in Moscow), and his other daughter, Hind (based in Greece). Ramsis also incorporates snippets from Sidqi’s own memoir, archival footage of 20th-century wars, and letters and photos from the family’s archive.
Beyond telling a little-known story — of the Arabs who voluntarily fought in the Spanish Civil War — the film is also profoundly personal.
In essence, it is the story of Dawlat, whose only contact with her family was through letters to and from her parents. But it is also the story of a Palestinian man who refused to accept borders, a stance which he eloquently described in his memoir, in a line quoted in the film: “I am an Arab volunteer. I came to defend freedom on the front in Madrid, to defend Damascus in Guadalajara, Jerusalem in Cordoba, Baghdad in Toledo, Cairo in Cadiz and Tetuan in Burgos.”
It is the film’s oscillation between both the personal and the collective — or rather its understanding of both as one and the same — that renders it truly inimitable.