In the gripping, naturalistic drama “The Flag” (“Alam”), a Palestinian-Israeli teen, living in a village in the Galilee, undergoes a political awakening catalyzed by a pretty, outspoken girl from his high school class. He joins her, along with some of his buddies, to secretly replace the Israeli flag flying from their school’s rooftop with a Palestinian one on the eve of a visit by a prominent Israeli official.
Encompassing a love story and a coming-of-age story, “The Flag” is the first feature directed and written by Firas Khoury, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, known for his prize-winning shorts “Maradona’s Legs” and “Yellow Mums.” The producers include Marie-Pierre Macia and Claire Gadéa from MPM Film (France), Melik Kochbati from Paprika Films (Tunisia) and Ossama Bawardi of Philistine Films (Jordan). Boasting development dollars and support from some of the world’s most prestigious and competitive international funds and ateliers, “The Flag” looks to be one of the buzziest titles among the post-production offerings at the Cairo Film Connection.
The gestation period for “The Flag” was unexpectedly long – the project received funding from Doha Film Institute in 2015, featured in Cannes’ Cinefondation L’Atelier lineup in 2017, and was pitched at Venice Gap-Financing Market in 2019.
Macia says: “We are currently in post-production and aim to finish by spring 2022 in time for festivals. Through our participation at the Cairo Film Connection we are looking for a sales agent, finishing funds as well as festival invitations.” The project will be represented in Cairo by Kochbati.
Khoury talked to Variety from Tunis, where he has been based for the past six years and where the film shot. He sounded exhausted. But his weariness isn’t only due to the fact that he is racing toward the picture-lock stage. Rather, the 39-year-old and his wife have just celebrated the birth of their first child and he’s on a short paternity leave.
Khoury says, “With ‘The Flag,’ I wish to present a marginalized population which is under-represented on screen: the Palestinians who live in Israel.” These legal citizens of Israel share an identity full of contradictions and discrimination. He decided to focus on teen protagonists because they live with multiple restrictions and long for freedom in their lives.
The film introduces many new faces to the screen, none of them professional actors, but as Khoury notes, “you can notice that they will be actors.” The thoughtful lead character, Tamer, is played by Mahmoud Bakri, yet another member of the acting dynasty sired by veteran Palestinian performer Mohammad Bakri. Mahmoud’s older brother Saleh also plays a key role as Tamer’s one-time activist uncle.
Also of note is the petite yet fiery Sireen Khas, a fashion designer from Gaza, who plays Maysaa’, a confident, politically committed newcomer to Tamer’s class, unafraid to speak out about Palestinian rights.
While his youth cast may be new to the screen, they are not complete unknowns. Khoury says, “One of them is very famous: Mohammed Karaki, a 19-year-old rapper.” Karaki plays Tamer’s loud-mouthed friend dubbed “Shekel.”
Khoury has many plans in the offing. His next film will be “Dear Tarkovsky.” The script, written in collaboration with Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”), has just been completed.