The documentary Al Haya Helwa - Life is Beautiful, has been invited to the competition program at IDFA, the world's largest documentary film festival. Al Haya Helwa is a personal story by director Mohamed Jabaly from Gaza who, after the closure of Gaza, involuntarily remains in Norway. The Norwegian documentaries Hiding Saddam Hussein by Halkawt Mustafa and Songs of Earth by Margreth Olin will also be screened at the Dutch documentary film festival.
The Norwegian Competition entry at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) this year is the Norwegian-Palestinian film Al Haya Helwa – Life is Beautiful, directed by Mohamed Jabaly.
The feature documentary film follows Jabaly as he is visiting a film festival in Tromsø in 2014 as a documentary film director when the borders to Gaza close. Mohamed then cannot return home from arctic winter Norway. Little does he know that it will be seven years before he can see his family again.
Refuses to give up his Palestinian identity
While waiting for the situation to change, Mohamed’s friends back home tell him to seek asylum or get married to stay in Norway. But Mohamed refuses to give up his Palestinian identity and insists on being recognized for his work. After being denied a work permit after several appeals - despite his film Ambulance achieving international success - he decides to take his case to court, backed by a growing group of supporters. As this unfolds, Mohamed lives a parallel life online, staying connected with family in Gaza. They provide solace, but when Gaza is attacked again, Mohamed experiences the pain of being separated from his loved ones and is faced with an impossible choice: if he goes back to Gaza, he may never be able to leave again and continue his work as an internationally recognized film director, sharing his stories with the world.
Al Haya Helwa – Life is Beautiful is a story of overcoming a life put on hold by international politics and rigid bureaucracy, told from the inside by a director who uses all his creativity to connect with the world and forge a way forward.
Production and international sales
The film is produced for Stray Dogs Norway by Kristine Ann Skaret and Sarah-Winge Sørensen. Mohanan Yaqubi is the Executive Producer. The international sales agent is First Hand Films.
Participating in the main competition at IDFA, Al Haya Helwa – Life is Beautiful can win awards for best feature-length documentary, best direction, best editing, and best cinematography.
Want to show hope
-I feel so proud to be selected for IDFA 2023, it's a great achievement for me and for the work that I have been doing over the last few years, says Mohamed Jabaly, who believes it's great for him to represent both Norway and Palestine at such a major film festival.
-For me, it's when you harvest the fruit in the right season, but this time the season turns into something else. I feel so sad about what's happening in my hometown in Gaza. It's tragic and horrific and our families are in danger, I have lost connection to most of my friends, I don't know where they are or how are they doing or even if they are still alive, says Jabaly.
-I always wanted to show the hope, the beauty of Gaza, its people, its struggle, and its survival. This film is a human story it's about life and how people stand together for each other when it's difficult. It's a social justice film for Norway and Palestine, my personal story here in Norway. It's kind of destiny that my film got selected at this special moment when we all live, we got the news before the attacks started... but I felt my joy wasn't complete, looking back to my city, says Mohamed Jabaly.
-I think the only way to keep moving is to share this hope, this beauty, and also see the world is recognizing us. My motto of hope is “Life is Beautiful”, I always said that and I will always say that... that's how I want to see our life, says director Mohamed Jabaly.
Showing destinies and consequences
-Documentary film is essential for giving us insight into fates and stories that we would otherwise not have access to or think about. Filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly has both shared the story of his own life and simultaneously shown us some of the many consequences of conflicts far away that also affect us. Mohamed Jabaly is a talented documentary filmmaker, and now that he has managed to get his film invited to the main competition at the world's largest and most important documentary film festival, it again demonstrates the high quality of Norwegian documentary film, says Kjersti Mo, CEO of the Norwegian Film Institute.
Al Haya Helwa - Life is Beautiful was presented at the IDFA Forum in 2020 while it was under development. The film has so far received NOK 2,3 million from the Norwegian Film Institute in development and production grants.
Hiding Saddam Hussein and Songs of Earth also to IDFA
The Norwegian documentary Hiding Saddam Hussein has been selected for the Frontlight section at IDFA. The Norwegian-Kurdish filmmaker Halkawt Mustafa (El Clásico) is the director, screenwriter, and producer of the film. During the Iraq War, a farmer in the village of Aldore receives a guest who must be hidden from family, friends, and 150,000 Americans hunting for him. The guest is Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. Over 235 days, the farmer became Saddam's bodyguard, cook, driver, barber, advisor, and eventually his friend. With this film, director Halkawt Mustafa has achieved unique access to Alaa Namuq, the man who hid Saddam Hussein.
Margreth Olin's Songs of Earth has been selected for IDFA's new Signed program, which showcases new films from renowned documentary filmmakers. Songs of Earth had its world premiere at CPH:Dox in March before screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival and Hamptons International Film Festival. Songs of Earth is the Norwegian Oscar submission this year and will compete for both the Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Film Award.
IDFA, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, this year takes place between November 8th and 19th and is considered one of the world's most important documentary film festivals. In 2022, IDFA presented over 290 films from more than 80 countries. The festival particularly focuses on promoting inclusion and giving a voice to underrepresented filmmakers.