The documentary Life is Beautiful - Al Haya Helwa is the Opening Film at TIFF 2024

The young Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly traveled from Gaza to Tromsø in 2014 to visit the Nordic Youth Film Festival. Now, almost 10 years later, his feature film "Life is Beautiful - Al Haya Helwa" will be the opening film at Tromsø International Film Festival.

Publisert 05.12.2023 — Sandra Aminda Indahl

While Jabaly visits Tromsø, the border between Egypt and Gaza closes. The documentary delves into Jabaly's seven-year-long state of limbo and his struggle to maintain his Palestinian identity, as well as his quest to be recognized as a filmmaker.

- Life is Beautiful - Al Haya Helwa is a film about unity, community, and a tribute to Tromsø as a city and the solidarity Jabaly received from the people who welcomed him, says Lisa Hoen, the festival director of TIFF.

In the film, Jabaly applies for a work visa as a film director but faces opposition despite his documentary film Ambulance being screened at several of the world's largest film festivals. The reason was that he at that time lacked a formal film education. Jabaly must fight to be recognized as a filmmaker.

- In many ways, it raises questions about who can call themselves an artist or filmmaker and who has the right to define this, adds Hoen.

Still from Life is Beautiful

A glimpse of light in the darkness

Jabaly previously participated at the festival with his first feature film, Ambulance, in 2017, and as a co-curator of the side program Arabica at TIFF 2023.

- Tromsø has been like a second home to me. It's been almost 10 years since I first came here, and I've felt like a Tromsø resident since then. It feels big to open TIFF with Life is Beautiful - Al Haya Helwa, a film about my life, Tromsø, and Gaza. This is all very emotional for me, says Jabaly.

This year's main theme for the festival revolves around using film to seek solutions and find hope in the challenging situation the world finds itself in.

Still from Life is Beautiful

- Life is Beautiful - Al Haya Helwa aligns so well with this theme. It's a powerful and beautiful documentary about finding glimpses of light in darkness. Mohamed, both as a person and a filmmaker, has the will and ability to seek the good and beautiful in bleak times, says Hoen.

- Presenting this film now is challenging but also important. I have many beautiful memories from my upbringing in Gaza. Today, the city is unrecognizable. Everything has been destroyed over the past few months with brutality and genocide. For me, this film is a way to remind the world of how I remember Gaza and to show the beauty amidst the ruins. 'Life is beautiful' is an expression I use daily. It's a reminder to appreciate life, but also an example of resilience—like a Phoenix rising from the ashes time and time again, says Jabaly.

Still from Life is Beautiful

A love letter to Tromsø city, Gaza, and mom

- Tromsø is the city where I became an adult. A significant part of my adult life has been spent here with my extended family. For me, the film is a love letter to Tromsø, Gaza, and my mom, says Jabaly.

The film will have its Norwegian premiere on Monday, January 15th, at Tromsø International Film Festival 2024.

- It feels very right to have the film as the opening film for TIFF. The film is a tribute to the city of Tromsø, reminding us of what can be achieved in a local community when people stand together and collaborate. Life is BeautifulAl Haya Helwa is the film we need right now," concludes Hoen.

Festival director Lisa Hoen and director Mohamed Jibaly. Photo: Jamie Michael Bivard.

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