“For people living in Palestine, everything is absurd,” says “200 Meters” director Ameen Nayfeh. “Every aspect of our life doesn’t make sense.”
“200 Meters” debuted as part of the Venice Days competition at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the BNL People’s Choice Audience Award. It’s currently playing in the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival, where earlier this week, the film’s Palestinian producer May Odeh picked up the Variety MENA Award.
The absurd situation in “200 Meters” is that a Palestinian construction worker Mustafa (Ali Suliman) lives just 200 meters away from his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik) and children. Yet, on the day his son is taken into hospital, he has to travel 200 kilometers to visit. That’s because he has to cross the Israel West Bank Wall that separates their homes, and the work permit allowing him to cross the Green Line has expired. So, Mustafa has to get smuggled across the Wall, throwing him together on a tricky road journey with a motley crew, including a mysterious German documentary filmmaker (Anna Unterberger).
Nayfeh says that life mirrored art when the film crew went to the Venice Film Festival: “The story is about freedom of movement, so for Ali Suliman, he has an Israeli passport as he is from Nazareth. For him, he could travel to Tel Aviv airport and take one flight. I had to go to Jordan, during the pandemic, which was very complicated, and the journey to Venice took 35 hours.”
In originating the idea for the tense drama, Nayfeh had been inspired by what happened to his mother’s family home. “My mother is from a Palestinian village, which is now on the Israeli side of the wall,” he explains. “Since Israel built the Wall, she and my siblings were cut from that side of our family. Growing up, I visited the village all the time; now suddenly I’m not allowed to go there anymore, suddenly it’s on another planet.”
Referring to when Mustafa meets the Berlin-based filmmaker on his journey, Nayfeh says: “Of course it’s a direct reference to the history of Germany and the situation in the region today, and also to the Berlin Wall.”
The director uses the film to take umbrage at those who try to profit from the misery of others. “When you live 70 years in occupation,” says the 32-year-old first-time filmmaker, “and you start to adapt to the crazy situation, there are people who try to make money from the misery of others. Maybe it’s not just about smugglers, but a symbolism about the bigger picture of what is happening today, a criticism of the Palestinian government as well.”
Given the complexity of the situation, highlighted in “200 Meters,” Nayfeh questions how the region can achieve peace. “What I also want to say with this film is that the two-state solution is an illusion,” he says. “Watching the film, does this Palestine depicted feel like a country? There are checkpoints everywhere; you cannot travel, or do anything without the okay of the Israeli authorities, so my idea is that the solution is a one-state solution. How? I don’t know. Peace with equal rights is what we want.”