Farah Nabulsi Interview — Director of ‘The Teacher’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


The Teacher, the feature debut of British-Palestinian filmmaker and activist Farah Nabulsi, was shot in 2022 and premiered in Toronto in September last year. Set in the Nablus area of the West Bank, The Teacher tells the story of conflicted schoolteacher Basem El-Saleh (Saleh Bakri) and his young student Adam (Muhammad Abed Elrahman), who are faced with tragedy as the escalating tension of an IDF soldier infringes on their lives.

It’s impossible to see the film’s Palestinian locations now and not think about the violence and destruction being perpetrated in the country. Fabulsi’s film isn’t just deeply connected to the lived experience of oppressed Palestinians, but interested in the strata of justice that defines their existence. The dramatic choices that ripple through the film may not seem connected at first glance, but as British volunteer Lisa (Imogen Poots) learns from being invited into Basem’s life, living under settler colonialism involves grievously imbalanced power dynamics that affect every action.

We spoke to Nabulsi at the Glasgow Film Festival about the resonance and intentions of her film.

This interview has been edited for publication.

Projektor: What has the festival experience for The Teacher been like so far?

Farah Nabulsi: So we had our premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, and then a month later, [the events of] October 7 happened. To be honest, it was a little bit of, “Oh, God” — in some ways, the last four years of my life working on something died at birth. Not because it deserves to, but because of the political reality of what was happening.

We slowed down a bit because of that. I’ve been absolutely immersed in grief. If I didn’t have a film right now that forces me to get out there and promote and discuss… I haven’t been able to do the other parts of my job. I’ve just been so down about the pain, suffering, and loss of Palestinians.

I felt down, then I felt ridiculous for feeling so down. Centering my feelings ceased to matter. But now I’m feeling grateful that I have this film and that I’ve been able to lend my artistic expression to this subject matter. In some ways, I see this as my solidarity and my active engagement with my brothers and sisters in Palestine.

“In some ways, I see this as my solidarity and my active engagement with my brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

What was the road to rolling those cameras, with this cast, on location in Palestine?

The Present, my previous short film that was also shot in the West Bank, was incredibly successful. The momentum that came with that was invaluable. At the pinnacle of that success, I already had, I think, Draft #5 of The Teacher in hand. Of course, it ended up at, like, Draft #1,520 eventually. So I’m not saying it was easy because, God, it wasn’t, but the process would be harder had I not already shot The Present.

People really, really came together off the back of that screenplay when they read it. It seemed to resonate. The next phase, of course, is what cast we could get on board. Saleh [Bakri] is a brilliant actor who I worked with on The Present. I sort of cast him before the first draft was even written. I had talked him through the story of The Teacher, and I do recall him being quite smiley and nodding his head like, “Yeah, I like the story.” And I’m like, “Yeah, ‘cause you’re the teacher.”

It’s not easy to shoot in the West Bank, of course. The Israeli military designated the West Bank into areas A, B, and C. If you’re shooting in area A, that’s where you could say the Palestinian Authority is governing. It doesn’t mean the military doesn’t come into those areas and can’t shut them down and raid them, and actually, these things did happen while we were there. But generally, that’s where you get your permits from, and they’re open and willing. They provided security when we needed the police to close roads. But they’re densely populated areas, which is a bit frustrating.

Like the scene with a military raid, we had to engage the villagers to close off all the roads in between takes because we had a really wide shot where there was one vehicle coming down. When they say it takes a village to do something, it quite literally took us a village! We were coordinating on the walkie-talkies and telling them, “Look, this is not a real Israeli military vehicle, and please, we need you to not drive right now.” We needed to hold up the traffic and explain why. You’ve got these real logistical hoops that you need to jump through, but we had a lot of enthusiasm and coordination from the local people, as well as a high ratio of local crew.

There’s this real sense between Bassam and Adam that both surviving and also resisting as a Palestinian are generational concerns. Was this a motivator for the way the story unfolded?

No, I don’t know if it was. [I] was very much inspired by my time on the ground in Palestine over the years. I was born, raised, and educated in the UK, but my heritage is Palestinian, and I spent a lot of time with Palestinians who have experienced many of the cruel, absurd things that were included in the screenplay.

And then we have Gilad Shalit, an Israeli occupation soldier who was abducted in 2006 and released in 2011 in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds of whom were women and children. For me, that imbalance in value for life really struck a chord, and is also a big inspiration for this story.

Fast forward to when this film was ready to be released, I never imagined that imbalance to magnify exponentially. We can see over 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza have either been killed, injured, displaced, maimed, or stuck under the rubble. And that doesn’t even touch upon the wanton destruction of vital infrastructure.

Coming back to that theme you mentioned of resistance and revenge – that also has come not just into the fore, but in some ways, they’re magnified. Because as this genocide unfolds, I keep thinking to myself, if some form of justice is not granted, then that’s going to manifest in deep hate and contempt. Ultimately, for some people, it will result in a pursuit of revenge. And that’s a big theme in The Teacher: the idea of pursuing justice versus revenge.

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