British-Palestinian filmmaker wins BAFTA award for short film on West Bank life

Farah Nabulsi dedicates award to ‘people of Palestine, for whom freedom and equality is long, long overdue’; the film will go against Israeli film at Oscars

Farah Nabulsi accepts the British Short Film BAFTA award for her film, The Present, on April 10, 2021. (Screen capture: BAFTA/ Youtube)
Farah Nabulsi accepts the British Short Film BAFTA award for her film, The Present, on April 10, 2021. (Screen capture: BAFTA/ Youtube)

“The Present,” a Palestinian short film depicting a day in the life of a father and daughter in the West Bank, won a BAFTA award for Best British Short Film on Saturday.

Farah Nabulsi, a British-Palestinian filmmaker, accepted the award virtually during the 74th annual British Academy Film Awards, which were streamed from London’s Royal Albert Hall and spread over the course of two days to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines.

In her speech, Nabulsi dedicated the award to “the people of Palestine, for whom freedom and equality is long, long overdue.”

The film, which is also nominated for an Academy Award, follows a Palestinian man, Yusef, and his daughter on their journey to buy a wedding anniversary gift in the West Bank. The film depicts the duo detained at checkpoints, clashing with IDF soldiers, and traveling across segregated roads.

“The Present” is Nabulsi’s directorial debut. Alongside serving as the film’s director and producer, Nabulsi co-wrote the script with Hind Shoufani, a Palestinian-American poet and director, according to Al-Jazeera.

The film also stars Saleh Bakri, a well-known Palestinian actor.

Nabulsi described some of her hopes for “The Present” in a virtual panel hosted by Other Israel Film Festival — a festival whose films present an “in depth look into Israeli and Palestinian societies and underrepresented populations in Israel.”

“I want audiences… to think about what life is like for people like Yusef and Yasmine. When something so simple, when daily life is made so difficult, and deliberately and unnecessarily so,” said Nabulsi.

“Palestinians just want to… live a life of freedom and liberty,” she added.

Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, wrote on Twitter: “The Present captures the pain of a nation that has gone on for far too long. We have been the victims of both oppression & cover up. Thank you.”

The film is available to stream on Netflix. On April 25th, it will compete for the title of Best Live-action short film in the 93rd Academy Awards.

“The Present” is up against the Israeli film, “White Eye,” which tells the story of a Mizrahi man named Omer whose bicycle is stolen. Omer calls the police on an Eritrean migrant worker, Yunes, who he accuses of stealing the bike, setting off a chain of events that ultimately expose the struggles of Israel’s migrant and asylum-seeking community.

Alongside “The Present,” “Nomadland” won four BAFTA awards including best picture.

FILE – In this file photo, Director Chloe Zhao, left, appears with actress Frances McDormand on the set of “Nomadland.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP, FIle)

“Nomadland” filmmaker Chloe Zhao became only the second woman, and the first woman of color, to win the BAFTA for best director, and star Frances McDormand was named best actress.

Emerald Fennell’s revenge comedy “Promising Young Woman” was named best British film, while the best actor trophy went to 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins for playing a man grappling with dementia in “The Father.”

An event that was criticized in the recent past with the label #BAFTAsSoWhite rewarded a diverse group of talents, including Black British star Daniel Kaluuya, newcomer Bukky Bakray — who shone as a London teenager in “Rocks” — and veteran Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn.

FILE – Chloe Zhao poses for a portrait during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 22, 2018. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)

The British film academy expanded its voting membership and shook up its rules last year in an attempt to address a glaring lack of diversity in the nominations. In 2020, no women were nominated as best director for a seventh consecutive year, and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white.

Under new rules that, among other things, made watching all longlisted films compulsory for academy voters, this year’s slate of acting nominees was strikingly more diverse, and four of the six filmmakers nominated for best director were women: Zhao, Sarah Gavron (“Rocks”), Shannon Murphy (“Babyteeth”) and Jasmila Zbanic (“Quo Vadis, Aida?”).

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