Samos YoungArtists Festival

Mahdi Fleifel

*1975, UAE

Mahdi Fleifel is a writer, film director and visual artist. Born in Dubai in 1979, Fleifel spent his early years in the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon before moving to Denmark. Refusing to “feed into familiar representations,” his films consider the exilic experience—shared by generations of his family—often in satirical or humorous ways.[1]   

Fleifel graduated from the National Film and Television School in England, where his first short film, Arafat & I (2009) won awards at numerous international festivals. This dramatic comedy echoes Fleifel’s diasporic history by following the story of two young lovers: a man, deeply in love, gives his girlfriend Yassar Arafat’s biography to help her understand his background. The relationship quickly dissolves.

In 2010, Fleifel set up the London-based production company Nakba FilmWorks with Irish producer Patrick Campbell. Their first feature-length film, A World Not Ours (2012) premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. It has since picked up over 30 awards, including the Peace Film Prize at the 2013 Berlinale; and Grand Jury Prizes at Yamagata, Edinburgh, and DOC: NYC.  A documentary about identity—how we think of who we are and where we come from—the film blends historical footage, personal recordings, and family archives to tell an intimate story of three generations of exile in the refugee camp, Ain el-Hilweh. Fleifel describes the film as “more than just a family portrait; it is an attempt to record what is being forgotten, and mark what should not be erased from collective memory.”[2]

The artist expands upon the trajectory of Ain el-Helweh’s residents in Xenos (2014). This film follows the 2010 journey of Abu Eyad, a young man from the camp, as he travels with smugglers through Syria and into Greece. Fleeing his war-torn homeland, Fleifel arrives in Greece only to find it a society buckling under the pressures of economic and political collapse. The short documentary mixes footage of Athens with phone conversations recorded during Abu Eyad’s stay in the city, conveying his “day-to-day struggle for survival and enduring sense of exile in a land of hope that has become a nightmare.”[3]

Fleifel’s latest project, A Man Returned (2016), won the EFA nomination and the Silver Bear at the 2016 Berlinale. It follows another young man, 26-year-old Reda, on his failed attempt to escape from Ain el-Hilweh. Trapped in Greece for three years, Reda finally returns to the refugee camp with a heroin addiction. Ain el-Hilweh is being destroyed by internal strife and the escalating tension from the war in Syria. Here, against all odds, Reda decides to marry his childhood sweetheart. A bittersweet love story, A Man Returned resonates with the triumphs and despairs of the camp itself.


[1] Doha Film Institute interview, June 26, 2013.
[2] Taken from Mehdi Fleifel’s personal site, June 6, 2016.
[3] Ibid.
 
 

A World Not Ours, 2012
Film, 93', colour, sound
Language: Arabic / English
Written, photographed and directed by Mahdi Fleifel
Produced by Patrick Campbell and Michael Aaglund
Film still courtesy of the Mahdi Fleifel and Nabka Filmworks

 
 

A World Not Ours, 2012
Film, 93', colour, sound
Language: Arabic / English
Written, photographed and directed by Mahdi Fleifel
Produced by Patrick Campbell and Michael Aaglund
Film still courtesy of the Mahdi Fleifel and Nabka Filmworks

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDIyM8XTWUo