Animated History: Of Fighting Occupation Artistically

in 4th Amman International Film Festival

by Schayan Riaz

A couple of years ago, Palestinian journalist and filmmaker Rami Younis interviewed Hany Abu-Assad for “+972” magazine. At first, he didn’t want to publish his chat with the director of Academy Award nominated films Paradise Now and Omar, the cultural activist in him having given up during Covid times, when Israel initiated normalization agreements with the UAE. It took the Palestinian uprising of May 2021 to give Younis a new-found purpose to share his wide-ranging conversation with Abu-Assad, where the two touched upon topics such as the occupation, Palestinian art and artists, and much more.

Reading the interview today, one of the most striking parts of it is when Abu-Assad talks about fighting the occupation through art, especially directing this to the younger generation of Palestinian artists. He says: „Since the occupation will ultimately vanish and your role at the moment is to struggle against it, you are not just fighting it within the parameters it has set for you, but rather are widening those parameters. Go and fight the occupation artistically outside its own small, miserable playing field. Strive to do things that are outside the boundaries of your time and place. That way, your film will stand the test of time even after the occupation has ended.“

That latter part is especially significant, given that Rami Younis has now directed his own debut film, together with filmmaker and media artist Sarah Ema Friedland, a documentary called Lyd (Lyd, 2023) which attempts to do just that: Fight the occupation artistically, outside the boundaries of time and place.

Celebrating its world premiere at the 4th Amman Film Festival, Lyd is a film that should, for all that it touches upon and how it does what it sets out to do, certainly stand the test of time. Above all, it’s a cinematic „What if…?“ What if the city of Lyd, which in the 40s had an airport and train station, connecting Palestine to the rest of the world, was never subjected to the Nakba, the catastrophe during which Palestinian cities, towns and communities were obliterated and 750.000 Palestinians were forced into exile. The film opens with shots of the city in the present and a caption tells us that it is Lyd, in Palestine. And there is an instant visual irritation when the word Palestine changes to Israel. Over the remainder of the running time, Lyd explores exactly that, what if Israel never occupied this city? What if Palestinian history was not simply erased like that?


What makes Lyd stand out from other documentaries on this topic, but also in general is the way the filmmakers audaciously weave together different forms of storytelling. Along with interviews of Nakba survivors and current residents of Lyd, they show archival footage from 1989 featuring testimonies of Israeli soldiers recounting a massacre they perpetrated in the city. And here’s the kicker: Younis and Friedland use animation to explore the „what if?“ parts of their story: they show Lyd, and by extension Palestine, as if it were never colonized in 1948 through animation sequences. These portions sprung from the filmmakers imagination are peppered throughout the film, showing a harmonious and idyllic place where people are living together without conflict. And this ultimately leads to a visual rupture on-screen, merging what is currently happening in the city with what could have been. It’s an ambitious moment in the film, where past, present, and future all meld into one, and are in a dialogue with each other.

Lyd is interested in what could have been, sure, but it’s equally invested in what course the city and its people are currently taking. In one poignant scene, a teacher in Lyd asks her pupils questions on identity and belonging. For these children, what it means to be Palestinian is not as clear-cut as it is for the teacher, or the older generation for example. And it begs the question, what will ultimately happen if one doesn’t speak about the Nakba constantly? If people start forgetting what happened? If people—going back to the beginning of the film—see Lyd as an Israeli city, not as a Palestinian one. It’s the erasure of history through the Israeli occupation in its truest essence. And therefore this film is an important document of time and should be screened widely.

Schayan Riaz
Edited by Savina Petkova