Published Mar 01, 2013The tone of Mahdi Fleifel's rumination on life in Palestinian refugee camp Ein el-Helweh is unexpected. Most would take one look at the subject matter and assume they were in store for a dose of political hand wringing or at least a primarily didactic experience, yet neither is the case in A World Not Ours.
Directing, writing and narrating from a wealth of personal and archival family footage, Fleifel is only concerned with politics as it pertains to the identity—or lack thereof—of the citizens of this forced community in southern Lebanon.
Since his perception of Ein el-Helweh was initially that of a young child on summer vacation (Fleifel's father moved his family to Dubai soon after his son was born but their refugee status remains) the tone at the start of the film is jovial. The insular society of outcasts is presented as a place brimming with vivacious personalities, fun, and guns.
As the documentarian begins to integrate footage of his most recent return visit as a grown man, the layered nostalgia of childhood is peeled back to reveal the complex and varied feelings of multiple generations of the dispossessed. Lacking even the right to work for a living, the citizens of Ein el-Helweh having nothing to do but wait.
Most fall into one of two camps: those waiting to reclaim their homeland, and those waiting to escape. For some, escape means literally fleeing Lebanon, and for others, it means death. But what many of them don't seem to realize, or accept (and it seems to take Fleifel's outsider's perspective from the inside to recognize), is that Ein el-Helweh is a home and identity for these people – not a fair or preferable place or situation to call one's own, but one unique to this adaptable and resilient culture of circumstance.
The residents of this tightly packed refugee camp get ridiculously invested in the World Cup like other citizens around the globe, take solace in Hollywood hero-worship and pass time shopping, smoking and shooting the shit or, almost as often, literally shooting shit.
As thoughtful and sad as it can be, A World Not Ours is also frequently very funny, mostly due to the rich character of the filmmaker's family and friends. Fleifel prefers to consider, rather than dwell on, the myriad perspectives of those who populate a place that has always felt more like a home to him than anywhere else in the world.
Without getting preachy, A World Not Ours covers more views on the Palestinian situation than most films, documentary or narrative, by virtue of allowing regular people caught in the conflict to speak to how it affects their lives, not just their perceived rights.
If more people could approach the topic with such a level head, there would be no situation to document. (Nakba Filmworks)