On November 13, the Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (CIMES) at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) hosted a special screening of the award-winning animated film, The Tower, along with a question and answer period with its Norwegian director, Mats Grorud.
This event was originally scheduled for October 31 including a live Q&A session with the director, but due to the power outage was canceled. The CIMES director, Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb, also a professor of communications studies at CSUSB, found a way to make this screening and Q&A happen via Zoom, since Grorud had gone back to his home in Norway.
Grorud's mother grew up in Lebanon, so as a small child in 1985 he traveled extensively in the country during the Lebanese war as his mother worked as a nurse in the hospitals at that time.
He moved to Cairo in 1989 where his mother worked in a Palestinian hospital. He found that all of these experiences connected him very closely to the Palestinian people.
Grorud later went back to the Middle East when he was 19 to teach English to the children. He was so touched by the stories he heard, that he decided later to go back and live for one year in the Beirut refugee camp to better understand the culture and refugee way of life.
The director made wonderful friends and the greatest thing he observed was how present in conversation the people were with each other, as well as with outsiders. They would just sit and talk for hours.
The Tower presents the 1948 expulsion of close to 900,000 Palestinians, from what is now the state of Israel, resulting in the Palestinians becoming refugees.
As Dr. Muhtaseb, explains, "the Palestinian people to this day have not been allowed back into their homeland and are currently living in refugee camps."
As seen through the eyes of the main character of the film, Wardi, a young girl learns about her family's past and the traumatic effects the war has had on all of them. Wardi is a strong-spirited individual on a mission to keep hope alive for her family, especially for her great-grandfather, Sidi, who was among the first generation of Palestinians forced out in 1948.
Grorud shared that you connect with people very quickly when living in the camp in Beirut. As a matter of fact, the first day the people were opening up to him. "They want your friendship," said Grorud.
His hope in creating this film is to break away from the stereotypes of Palestinians and refugees in general, especially for the women in the camp.
"The women in the camp are super strong, powerful women," said Grorud. "People see women in the Middle East as oppressed, without their own power and strength, and I wanted to tell people that the reality is it is a society with very, very powerful women."
"I thought the film was very creative in its presentation of the plight of the Palestinian refugees," said Dr. Muhtaseb.
"We now have four generations of Palestinians who have been living in terrible conditions; and who have the drive to return to their homelands, as guaranteed by international law and the Geneva Convention, but unfortunately, Israel has prevented them from going back," continued Muhtaseb.
This award-winning animated film will be available to CSUSB students in the library soon.
"I thought it was a beautiful film. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time," said CSUSB student Adriel Chavez-Sherman. "Everybody's got to watch this film. I highly recommend it."