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A Weight Generations Of Palestinians Carry — Bye Bye Tiberias (Safar Film Festival)

3 min read

Bye Bye Tiberias is a moving exploration of the stories of four generations of Palestinian women in its director, Lina Soualem's family.  Soualem is the fourth generation of women and the first to be born outside of Palestine in her family. Her mother, the actor Hiam Abbass (Succession, Blade Runner 2049), left her native Palestinian village, Deir Hanna, to follow her dream of becoming an actress in Europe.

Thirty years later and as a successful actor, Abbass returns with her daughter to Deir Hanna on a journey to revisit the past. They overturn their family adage, “Don't open the gate to past sorrows”, recognising that sometimes old wounds need to be opened in order to heal. 

Fuzzy camcorder footage of Soualem's childhood visit to Palestine, including footage from various weddings, and family gatherings before her birth, is edited seamlessly and stitched with historical footage, including of the 1948 Nakba in which there was ethnic cleansing and mass displacement of Palestinians. The horrific event has left deep scars on the collective memory of Palestinians, including Soualem's family whose great-grandmother, Um Ali, and her husband Hosni, were exiled from their native village, Tiberias. The film opens with family footage of the expansive Lake Tiberias as Soualem begins her off-screen narration, saying “As a child, my mother took me swimming in this lake. As if to bathe me in her story.”

We hear of an especially moving part of Soualem's family history following the Nakba, in which her great-aunt, Hosnieh, ended up separated from her family in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. With no right of return and after moving from camp to camp, she eventually settled in Yarmouk, South of Damascus. When Abbass was 43, owing to her French passport, she was able to visit Hosnieh in Syria. She recounts their meeting for the first time in a long time – both dissolving into a flood of tears while her aunt named every member of their family as she breathed in Abbass, having missed the scent of family. 

Soualem approaches her family's story from all angles, which gives this documentary intricate depth.   We hear about Abbass' other struggles and we visibly see how alienated she feels in family events, leading to her running away to pursue her acting career and falling in love with an English man. There are moments when Abbass is barely able to look at the camera, becoming lost in thought and emotion as she recalls decisions she made when she was younger. In some ways, it makes sense for Soualem to be behind the camera for most of the film, to truly allow her mother to reflect on those vulnerable parts of her life. 

The only time we see Soualem in front of the camera is in the last third, as she and Abbass look out across Deir Hanna at twilight. It's a special moment as we see what it means to the two women to stand together to honour where they are from and who they are. You can feel the bond between them having strengthened through the making of this film. 

Bye Bye Tiberias comes at a much-needed time to counter any desensitisation of what is happening in Palestine today. Soualem shows that at the centre of it all are simply human beings. People trying and wanting desperately to get on with their lives, full of the same dreams, loves and heartbreaks as anyone else. The film is a salient reminder that the tragedy we see today has been unfolding for 75 years, meaning consecutive Palestinian generations have inherited the traumas of their ancestors. With the present-day scale of suffering, sadly more Palestinian generations will carry that weight. But films like this fight against erasure and offer a way of coming back to a part of your identity, your culture and your sense of place in this world.

Bye Bye Tiberias is out on 28 June from T A P E Collective and is also screening at the between 18 to 30 June.