Hind Shoufani describes her feature-length documentary Trip Along Exodus, making its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival on Friday, as “an homage to my dad, an ode to Palestine, an ode to the revolution, an ode to socialist thinking, a call to rebellion perhaps, a call to remembering who the enemy is and a portrait of a visionary, powerful man who was very much a tragic and broken figure by the end of his life.”
Trip Along Exodus (watch the trailer above) tells the story of Palestine’s struggle for liberation through the experience the director’s father, Dr. Elias Shoufani, who left a career in academia in the United States to join the underground Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut during its heyday in the early 1970s.
Hind didn’t know at the time about her father’s role in the Fatah party and his bitter opposition to its iconic and authoritarian leader, Yasser Arafat, eventually splintering from the organization and moving to Damascus.
“We had guns in the house and we had guns in the car and we had bodyguards stationed outside our house in Syria and they answered the phone when it rang and they answered the doorbell when it rang,” Hind recalled in an interview with The Electronic Intifada (listen to the interview via the player below).
“I was always told that he [my father] was a writer, if anybody should ask,” she said.
It wasn’t until she was a young adult that Hind understood “that my father had done something quite honorable and noble and very intense and at the same time, kind of shot himself in the foot.”
After the 1967 War and subsequent occupation, Dr. Elias Shoufani, who was born in a Galilee village in the late 1930s and carried an Israeli passport, abandoned both his tenured job at a US university and his American wife and dedicated himself to the liberation of Palestine.
“His whole worldview changed,” his daughter recalled.
In Lebanon, Dr. Shoufani worked at the Institute for Palestine Studies during the day and dedicated his evenings and weekends to the armed struggle. He married a Palestinian American woman also living in the country and had two daughters.
“He could have been a much more prominent writer had he stayed in academia and published in English in the States,” Hind said.
“But my father deep in his heart was a true socialist and a true leftist. And I think he was much more comfortable with the people in the camps in Syria and Lebanon and thought it was a much better use of his time to try and change from within.”
After studying film at New York University, Hind said she felt compelled to capture her aging father’s story, which spans multiple eras of Palestinian history.
She began filming in 2008 and 2009, visiting her father in Damascus every couple of months.
“Slowly and surely I broke down Dad’s defenses, because in the beginning he was pretty much only interested in talking politics, and in a very formal way and dressed up in a suit and in a jacket and a shirt,” Hind recalled. “Eventually a couple of years into it, he relaxed a lot and started telling me more personal things and crying more on camera and digging up the past emotionally.”
“So I just started taping it and it developed from there into a long, poetic story which took on a life of its own,” she said, adding that “it brought me together with my father.”
“It changed my perception of who he was. I think it changed his perception of me as a woman, and we both gained a lot of respect for each other in the process,” she recalled.
Those familiar with the aesthetics of Hind’s previous work will find her characteristic glitter and kitschy color layered into this film.
“I didn’t want the documentary to be a straightforward, serious political film. I wanted it to look like one of my poems,” she said.
She worked with a wealth of archive footage including 8mm video, VHS and Betamax, some of it found in her father’s closet.
“You should see the Betamax stuff, it’s so trippy,” Hind said. “Because the film is so degraded … the Betamax is neon pink and neon green and neon blue. There’s these long scenes of fighters and fedayeen running around Syria and Lebanon in the camps and marches and parades and lectures and speeches and festivals and the quality of the footage is kind of degraded but also very colorful.”
Contemporary events also made their impact on the film. The war in Syria broke out, separating Hind from her father once again.
“All of the sudden my relationship with my father tremendously changed yet again because I couldn’t go to Syria, I was not allowed,” Hind said. “He forbade me to go to Syria and even in terms of paperwork, I wasn’t going to be allowed back into the country — I’m a writer and a journalist and they wouldn’t let me in.”
The father and daughter’s phone calls during this separation became another layer in the film.
“The structure of the film goes back and forth, so you never know where you are in time. You’re always moving along through a story but it goes back and forth a lot — it’s not chronological at all,” Hind said.
“I felt like it should work like your memory works, because your memory is never really chronological.”
Hind hopes the film will be shown around the world after its debut in Dubai.
“I worry that the West will think it’s too anti-Western and that the Arabs will think it’s too anti-Arab, I don’t know, we’ll see,” she said.
“I attempted to be honest and attempted to be brave,” Hind added. “I know this is nothing compared to the people who are actually on the front lines and people who are living in the war zones. But I’m a writer-filmmaker and I hope through my writing and my filmmaking, that I can be a part of the incredible cultural tapestry that is the Palestinian heritage.”
Trip Along Exodus will be screened at the Dubai International Film Festival on 12 and 15 December. All images courtesy of Hind Shoufani.