Annemarie Jacir’s film, When I Saw You, has won Best Asian Film in the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival. The festival, also known as the Berlinale, took place from 7 to 17 February 2013.
The film, Jacir’s second feature, is the first Jordanian film to win an award from a major festival.
Last year it won Best Arab World Film at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and it was acclaimed at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The film was also selected as the occupied Palestinian territories’ entry for this year’s foreign language Oscar.
When I Saw You will open London’s Birds Eye View (BEV) Film Festival in April, a festival for women film-makers, which this year will focus on Arab film-makers.
Jacir made When I Saw You during her mentorship with renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou.
Looking back at their year together, Jacir recalls moments when the two traded both insights and laughter. She says the impact is still sinking in. “I think a lot of that experience is not very clear at the moment, but will come. I think there was a big influence”.
A still from Jacir's film When I Saw You
Set in 1967, When I Saw You tells the story of a young Palestinian boy and his mother living in a refugee camp in Jordan. Desperate to return home and find his absent father, the boy runs away from the camp and is taken in by a band of rebel soldiers planning their own return to the occupied Palestinian territories.
“Why 1967?” poses Jacir. “Because it was a bad year for Palestinians. My parents became refugees in 1967. At the same time, it was the ’60s. Young people everywhere were involved in student movements, anti-war movements, people were full of hope that they could change their lives. It was a mix of two emotions – something had happened politically, but at the same time there was great hope, and that’s what I was interested in. This boy is that kind of character. He’s full of hope.”
Less a political story than one focused on a mother and her son, the film presented a number of different challenges to Jacir.
“I hadn’t worked with a little kid before,” she says. The 13-year-old boy who plays the lead character Tarek is not an actor. He lives in a refugee camp with his family. Jacir cast him after seeing about 200 boys. “He’s a lot like the character,” she says. “He’s really open-minded … He’s completely childish and at the same time completely mature.”
Obtaining permission to film in Jordan was also challenging, she says.
Jacir says that, in some ways, When I Saw You was a reaction to Salt of This Sea, which took a more pessimistic view of how young people feel about their ability to direct their future. She wrote When I Saw You before the Arab revolutions, which makes her wonder whether artists were responding to the same growing energy that catalysed the political upheavals in the Middle East.
“Something was changing and we had a sense of that too.”