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Tribeca Takes: Julia Bacha on Budrus

Why did Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan visit the West Bank? To see Budrus (TFF 2010), of course. Check out this powerful doc about nonviolent protest, opening Friday.

Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha explains the global impact her powerful documentary Budrus has had around the world since premiering at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.


Still from the film Budrus


We learned that the women of Budrus, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, know how to put up a fight—but a nonviolent one. Back in 2003, we heard about a nonviolent protest in Budrus, which was about to be divided by Israel’s Separation Barrier. It was a potentially devastating situation for the inhabitants: not only were they going to be split apart from neighbors and their cemetery, but most damaging of all—the olive trees, which were their livelihood.
Many Israelis we’ve met echoed the refrain that if Palestinians adopted nonviolent means, there would be peace, and Budrus was an opportunity to put this idea to the test. What transpired over ten months was an unprecedented display of courage and cooperation led by a community organizer named Ayed Morrar and bolstered by the first-time presence of women and Israeli activists. The charisma that Ayed projected was not lost on his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, who was the driving force behind organizing the women of this fairly conservative village.


The Israeli border police, gradually becoming overwhelmed by the growing combination of these unique forces, resorted to batons, tear gas, and live bullets to break them up. What unfolded was a dramatic “battle of wills” that, surprisingly, escaped the radar of most international correspondents in the region.  

Michael Moore, Ayed Morrar, and Julia Bacha at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival


The failure of the mainstream media to cover this and similar stories, probably accounts to some extent for the overwhelming success Budrus, the documentary, has enjoyed in film festivals around the world, including winning the Special Jury Mention at Tribeca.


However, the series of events that unfolded at the official Palestinian premiere of the film was nothing I would have ever imagined.
It was going to be a high profile event, since we had reserved the Ramallah Cultural Palace, which seats 800 people. We were expecting top journalists, Palestinian Authority ministers, villagers from the countryside, political leaders of all different parties, Israeli activists and American diplomats. And it was only 24 hours before the screening that I received a text that Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan was going to helicopter into Ramallah to attend our event.


It wasn’t much of a surprise to me, since she had been a supporter of the film since its first rough cut and gave the keynote speech at the Budrus world premiere in Dubai and at the Tribeca Film Festival. However, the Palestinian Authority officials, who also received a 24-hour notice of Her Majesty’s arrival, were in a panic, and understandably so. This was the first time Queen Noor was visiting the West Bank. Ever. It was great news because it raised the profile of the screening and sparked more interest, but there were potential complications. Ayed Morrar was concerned that the Palestinian Authority (PA) ministers would usurp the spotlight from the screening, launch into a series of political speeches and turn it into a formal PA event.
Still from the film Budrus


I thought Ayed was exaggerating until I arrived at the venue and realized that the PA had transformed the Palace into a fortress, complete with metal detectors and a dozen or more security forces heavily armed with dogs at their sides. I soon found out that the PA was refusing to allow inside an activist who was a former Islamic Jihad member. Ayed threatened to leave the event if they continued to refuse his guest, and in the midst of this, Queen Noor arrived, and I was expected to meet her. Instead of the smiles and cordial greetings, the first words that popped out of my mouth when I saw her was, “Your Majesty, we have a problem.”


I told her the whole event could collapse because a guest was not being allowed in, and she immediately put me in touch with someone who organizes her missions who managed to work everything out. It was smooth sailing from then.


We were able to capture the true diversity of Palestinian society in the audience, with representatives from all political groups; journalists; and grassroots movement members. We even had officials from the American consulate, Israeli activists, and of course, Jordanian royalty.   


Still from the film Budrus


I realized then the historical nature of what we had achieved, and I felt very hopeful about the potential of the film to boost the nonviolence movement on the ground. One Scottish visitor who attended the screening in Ramallah remarked that it seemed very much like a soccer match, which I definitely relate to as a Brazilian. It was not just a film screening; it was a participatory event where audience members were vocally and physically reacting to the film—either booing at violent scenes or cheering in support of the movement. You could feel the positive energy in the room, and Ayed, who had been stressed earlier in the day, was visibly moved by the crowd’s response. Iltezam gave a big shout out to the women who stood on the front lines of the protest in the film.


The next morning, I felt relieved that the night before, which could have ended in disaster, concluded so positively, but the reverberations of our success were just beginning. Al Quds newspaper ran a front-page story about Budrus, and Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times wrote a column calling it “this year’s must-see documentary.” Media coverage exceeded our expectations when Channel 2 of Israel—the main news channel of the country—aired a positive five-minute segment about Budrus the night of the final World Cup game, meaning practically everyone in Israel was watching.  


This October, as Budrus opens across the U.S., hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians will also be watching the film in the cinematheques of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, as well as in villages and campuses across the West Bank and Gaza. I can only hope that more people across nationality, gender and party lines become as good at putting up the nonviolent fight as the women of Budrus were.


Budrus opens in New York at the Quad Cinema on Friday, October 8.


Click to enter for your chance to win a pair of tickets to see Budrus on Opening Night.


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