Throughout his life, Madhi Fleifel’s father insisted on documenting their lives on video camera. Born a Palestinian refugee, Fleifel’s family moved to the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon when the filmmaker was a child. The summers spent in the camp felt like going Disneyland for Fleifel, but is this notslgia or gazing at the camp through the innocent eyes of a child? Fleifel goes back as an adult to try and understand both his fascination with, and the future for the camp.
A World Not Ours could easily be a depressed and depressing look at the life of a refugee – both the people who have spent much of their lives longing to return home to Palestine, and the people who were born in the camp and have never known anything different. However, Fleifel captures the character and spirit of both people and place, and has managed to make his film funny, irreverent and incredibly moving.
Fleifel focuses on the family he has in the camp; his cranky grandfather who is continually annoyed by the kids playing outside of his home, but has a loving heart underneath. This man has lived in the refugee camp since he was 16 and, now that he is in his 80s, still holds out hope that one day he will be allowed to return home. Said, the filmmaker’s uncle is a man whose life was marked with tragedy, utterly changing him from a strong and forceful man into a shadow of his former self. Abu Eyad, the filmmaker’s long time friend, perhaps goes through the most remarkable journey in the film; from PLO fighter to disillusionment with the cause in a very short space of time.
All of these stories are recorded and thrown into relief by the filmmaker’s presence; here is a man who is not confined to the camp – in fact he struggles to get into the camp, whereas most struggle to get out – and it seems that his holidays in the camp make the residents more aware of their plight than they would ordinarily have been.
Fleifel frames his story through the camp’s excitement at the World Cup every four years, and his film serves to examine the changes in the tiny camp – home to 70,000 people – in the years between tournaments.
A World Not Ours is a gentle look at the past and futures of the Palestinian people living in an incredibly tiny space. With no education, right to work or way of earning money, it seems that the people in the camp are doomed to stay there. Many would never leave, but many yearn for the freedoms enjoyed by the filmmaker. A World Not Ours does not offer any answers, and nor does it try to, but it is an interesting and engaging look at life within a long established refugee camp.