Films of, by, and for the Palestinian people at Toronto International Film Festival
Muhammad Abed El Rahman (left) and Saleh Bakri in 'The Teacher' | Cocoon Films

TORONTO—The famed Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) just completed its 48th year, and despite the absence of some of its special guests affected by the actors’ and writers’ strikes, TIFF seems to be recovering soundly after the pandemic that decimated the film festival circuit for years.

Presenting hundreds of top-quality films from every corner of the world, shown to one of the largest film festival audiences, while featuring in most cases post-discussions with filmmakers and actors, makes this one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences in the film world.

As one of the few credentialed press that has attended the festival from its very beginning, I can attest to the power and influence films have on people’s lives, especially documentaries and world cinema that allow viewers to experience events and places, present and past, that few will ever visit in their lifetime.

On a personal note, it has inspired my wife and me, along with many of our friends, to gain knowledge of and travel to places we learned about in film. Israel and Palestine are destinations that have become a commitment for life, and much of our determination to lend support to the struggle there has been fueled by the many films we’ve seen that were created by committed artists.

Tragically, Gaza is in the news again. The whole world can witness the continual suffering of the Palestinian people, and consequently all Israelis.

It’s in the world of cinema where writers, filmmakers, and artists of all type, bravely risk their lives to document the horrific realities and portray the stories that many in the West will never experience otherwise. Over the decades, TIFF has presented unforgettable films that bring to life the Palestinians’ struggle to free themselves from Israel’s illegal occupation while living in a vicious state of apartheid.

Gaza has been described as the largest open-air prison in the world, 141 square miles packed with the densest population in the world, where the actual governing State of Israel has total control of all air, land, and sea entrances and exits, forbidding even one airport, or seaport. And you can add to that the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons locked up for demanding to free themselves from this oppressive occupation.

This year, TIFF once again continues to provide memorable films about the Palestinian struggle. British Palestinian director Farah Nabulsi has quickly moved on from her Oscar-nominated short, The Present, to her riveting first feature, The Teacher, which had its world premiere at TIFF.

Palestinian director Farah Nabulsi. | AP

Shot in Nablus in the Occupied Territories, the story contains many of the real challenges Palestinians are forced to endure daily. The film stars Saleh Bakri, son of the famed Palestinian director/actor Mohammed Bakri, who started his career in Costa-Gavras’ 1983 groundbreaking drama Hanna K, where Jill Clayburgh plays a lawyer defending a young Palestinian destined for prison.

Here Saleh plays a teacher, mentor, and father who is devastated by the loss of his son and transfers his energies to two of his most promising students, brothers Adam and Yacoub. He is conflicted by his commitment to political resistance and his emotional support for his beloved students while trying to balance a budding romance with a British social worker (Imogen Poots) who’s in town to help deal with the psychological traumas affecting young students.

In an all-too-common event in Palestine, Adam and Yacoub’s family home is suddenly demolished by Israeli bulldozers without warning, as they stand watching their history being wiped out. Soon after, violent settlers attacked the village to burn down their olive trees, the lifeblood of many Palestinian communities.

In a desperate rage of fury, they attempt to stop them, and Yacoub gets murdered by a settler. Adam seeks revenge while his teacher tries to stop him. The story gets more involved in the tragic realities that Palestinians face daily. This is a deeply moving and well-made first feature film that reflects the headlines screaming from today’s news media about Gaza.

The actors offer a passionate and convincing depiction of the traumas they are forced to endure daily. The film has been bought by Front Row Entertainment and will be available on Netflix as early as January 2024.

One of the most important tasks of activism in support of the Palestinian struggle is to arm ourselves with truth and historical facts. Western media propaganda fails to portray a full and accurate picture with its one-sided bias towards Israel. The brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking noted, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance…it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Here are a few recommended films about Palestine that have premiered at TIFF over the years, and offer the missing facts most of us are prevented from knowing.

They are all—except for the last one—available to watch for free online:

Tears of Gaza (2010), directed by Norwegian Vibeke Løkkeberg, and one of the most powerful and moving films beyond belief. It is an exhausting emotional experience.

On the Side of the Road (2013). Lia Tarachansky, an Israeli filmmaker from the USSR, presents an early and strong confirmation about Israel’s long-planned attempts at genocide against the Palestinian people.

Gaza Fights for Freedom (2019). Famed journalist Abby Martin produced and directed this unforgettable gut-wrenching documentation of the previous devastating war in Gaza.

Occupation 101 (2006) is loaded with facts and thought-provoking interviews with dozens of informed sources.

Killing Gaza (2018) Journalist/author Max Blumenthal not only documents the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, but provides a list of war crimes committed by the Israeli military (this one has a $3 rental).


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.