“They Planted Strange Trees,” the new documentary by Hind Shoufani, the Middle East-based Palestinian-American director and poet from the leftist Levantine diaspora, will depict her return to Galilee, after 20 years of absence and her parents’ death, to embrace the vibrant family and community she seeks in her ancestral Christian Arab land.
Ossama Bawardi of leading Jordanian and Palestinian production house Philistine Films is producing. The non-fiction film is about to head into post-production.
Shoufani told Variety at the El Gouna Film Festival that “They Planted Strange Trees,” “Organically weaves together the lives of 14 Arab Christians in Galilee. The ensemble of characters interact with each other, extended communities, and the camera documenting their everyday lives.”
The film is an investigative curious trip through many towns, starting in Mi’ilya, then onto the destroyed Palestinian villages of Iqrith/Biriim, the Christian villages of Fassuta/Tarsheeha, and then the complex cities of Haifa and Nazareth.
“As an adult, I wanted to find out what makes the Galilean people universally beautiful, what is their Mediterranean lifestyle, and how could I reclaim my space in my family land?” explains Shoufani. “I want to imagine what life might have been had my parents stayed, or am I lucky to have wandered the earth without roots?”
Shoufani adds: “The film asks difficult questions on minority faith, the erosion of identity, patriotic allegiance, muddled citizenship and fragmented communal memory after 70-plus years of living as Israeli citizens.”
The collaboration with producer Bawardi has been fruitful. “I am so happy to be collaborating with my colleague and friend Ossama on this project that commemorates our shared lineage, even though we grew up separated by barriers. I cannot imagine a producer who could know more about the complicated land, the dual identity issues, the juxtaposed realities, the difficulties, the joys of the landscape and its beauty, the history of our people there, and the conflicts and narratives that might shape their future.”
Author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, Shoufani’s debut film “Trip Along Exodus” won the audience award for best film at the Cairo Intl. Women’s Festival and the best non-European documentary at the European Independent Film Festival in Paris.
“Trip Along Exodus” explored 70 years of Palestinian history through the prism of the filmmaker’s father, Elias Shoufani, an academic and intellectual who gave up a tenured position at a U.S. university and joined the underground PLO in Beirut, where he was one of the leaders of the opposition to Yasser Arafat in Fatah for two decades.
Shoufani was also a co-scriptwriter and editor on “The Present,” a 25-minute short film detailing the barriers facing a Palestinian man as he tries to buy his wife a gift. Produced by Philistine Films, the short has collected a plethora of prizes including the audience award at Clermont-Ferrand Intl. Short Film Festival.