Julia Bacha is a Peabody award-winning filmmaker, media strategist, and the Creative Director at Just Vision. Her credits include “Encounter Point,” “Budrus,” and “My Neighbourhood.” Bacha’s work has been screened at Sundance, Berlin, and Tribeca Film Festivals, broadcast on the BBC, HBO, and Al Jazeera, and shared with Palestinian refugee camps and the U.S. Congress.
“Naila and the Uprising” will premiere at the 2017 Doc NYC film festival on November 12.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Jb: “Naila and the Uprising” is about the courage of women’s leadership and the power of nonviolent resistance in the struggle for freedom, dignity, and equality. It follows Naila Ayesh, a young woman in Gaza who, when a national uprising breaks out, is forced to make a choice between love, family, and freedom. She embraces all three in a story that is both tragic and hopeful.
The film is framed by the First Intifada of the late 1980s, and Naila’s story serves as a window into the clandestine network of women who organized the most vibrant, nonviolent mobilization in Palestinian history.
“Naila and the Uprising” uses evocative animation, intimate interviews, and exclusive archival footage to bring out of anonymity the courageous women activists who fought a simultaneous struggle for national liberation and gender equality.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Jb: For over a decade, whenever I’ve asked Palestinian grassroots leaders about the models of inspiration that they draw on, they’ve consistently pointed me towards the First Intifada.
I knew after years of filmmaking in the region that, broadly speaking, the historical memory of the First Intifada had been clouded by a mainstream media narrative that simplified the uprising with images of stone-throwing Palestinian youth, Molotov cocktails, and burning tires. But I didn’t understand the extent of that misleading narrative until our team at Just Vision, for whom I’m the Creative Director, began digging deeper.
I was captivated by what we learned: that women played a key leadership role in a strategic and disciplined nonviolent movement, and that most of their stories had never been told. We knew we had the chance to tell a really crucial story.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Jb: My hope is that audiences walk away with a more holistic understanding not only of the First Intifada, but also of social movements around the world.
One thing that’s jumped out at me while making films in Palestine and Israel is that the media often overlooks nonviolent organizing, even when it makes up the bulk of organizing. Even more so, women who stand at the frontlines are often made invisible in media narratives and historical accounts. That’s a theme we took on in “Budrus,” our 2009 documentary about a village’s nonviolent campaign to save their community from destruction.
“Naila and the Uprising” follows these themes, unearthing a remarkable story of women’s leadership and nonviolent organizing. My hope is that audiences will walk away with a more complete picture of the First Intifada and of Palestinian and Israeli organizing aimed at a rights-respecting future for everyone.
But I also hope they see the implications beyond the region, recognizing that we each hold a responsibility to look beyond the headlines to amplify women’s leadership and nonviolent organizing in social movements around the world.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Jb: Going back 30 years to make visible a story that was largely invisible at the time is a logistical and creative challenge. We set out to re-tell the story of the First Intifada from the perspective of the women who had guided it through its most disciplined and strategic stage. But we wanted to do it in a way that captured the exhilaration, fear, and inspiration that the women experienced at the time.
There was some visual documentation of the work they had done, but very little. There was even less of their personal journeys. Our archivists did an amazing job of doing really deep research to unearth every single instance of media coverage of women’s organizing from the time, and we illustrated the more intimate moments of their personal struggles with animation.
Piecing those together while honoring the courage and resilience of the film’s protagonists was by far the biggest challenge, and also the greatest joy.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Jb: We raised funding for the film from Just Vision’s community of supporters, which is comprised of private and public foundations, family foundations, and individuals who are passionate about film, human rights, conflict resolution, social justice, the Middle East, women’s rights, and independent news.
I feel incredibly lucky to have such a strong community of supporters for this work.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Doc NYC?
Jb: It feels like we’re coming full circle by having our world premiere at Doc NYC. We pitched “Naila and the Uprising” back when it was still an untitled film at last year’s Pitch Perfect at Doc NYC, and won best pitch. That recognition, from some people who I deeply admire, gave us a huge boost.
Plus, as a documentarian living in NYC, there’s really no better festival for a world premiere. We’re pretty humbled to be here and excited about the community we’ll be sharing the film with.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Jb: The best advice is a well-known editing mantra passed down to me from Jehane Noujaim: One idea per scene. We worked together on “Control Room” and I’ve repeated that phrase since more times than I can count.
I can’t remember any specific bad advice, which probably is a good sign. It means the advice either disappeared after some trial and error or that I willfully cleared it out of my mind.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Jb: If you merely want to be a filmmaker, don’t do it. But if you need to be a filmmaker, start by finding people that you trust and love working with. It’s a really hard road and it can’t be done without a supportive community.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Jb: “Stories We Tell” by Sarah Polley. It’s brilliant storytelling, gorgeously shot, and so brave.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Jb: Like other systemic issues, female representation in the film industry is not going to change overnight. I believe we are going to see real change over decades, not years. I don’t mean this to be discouraging, I just think it’s realistic.
If we don’t do all the work we’re doing — and more — then we’ll not only not improve, we’ll risk losing the gains we’ve made. Still, when I see that Doc NYC has more than 40 percent of its films directed by women, I can’t deny it makes me feel excited to be among them.
Doc NYC 2017 Women Directors: Meet Julia Bacha — “Naila and the Uprising” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.