TOUCHLINE is set in Palestine in 1948 and tells the story of a teenage boy called Ahmad who plays football for a local club in his town Haifa. After a match-winning performance in a friendly, he gets selected for the Palestinian national team. On his way back home, Ahmad and his two friends face soldiers blocking their way and see the people of the city fleeing. He finds his own family packing and getting ready to flee to seek refuge somewhere safe. This marked the beginnings of an ongoing war in Palestine, Ahmad has to leave his home, friends and most importantly his dreams behind.
Ahead of its premier at the Tribeca Film Festival, we talk to director Mohammed Saffouri about his short film TOUCHLINE which tells the story of his grandfather on the day he was picked to play for the Palestine football team. Saffouri distinguished himself early on in his film career by earning a Capital Emmy for his debut documentary film, “The First” which focused on a Muslim American woman running for a school board seat in Fairfax County, Virginia. TOUCHLINE is the first Jordanian film to be screened at Tribeca.
Outsideleft: How did the film come to be made?
Mohammed Saffouri: I’m originally from Palestine, and most of the time, whenever anyone asks me where I am from, I say Palestine, but they hear it as Pakistan because they don’t know what Palestine is, and here came the idea of this film. I wanted to tell people about us, my country, and the origin of what’s happening in Palestine. I couldn’t find a better story to tell than the story of my grandfather who witnessed the war in his home town in 1948. I remember hearing this story from my grandfather when I was younger, and it never left my mind.
OL: What happened to your grandfather? did he continue playing football?
MS: At the end of the film, I show him leaving. They actually went to a refugee place in Lebanon where he continued to play football. Over there, he and other Palestinian refugees created a football team. Later, he moved to Kuwait and continued to play football even after he got married and became a father and a grandfather as well. I am the second youngest grandchild, and I remember my grandfather being very old, but he was still playing football with us. He was probably seventy-seven or seventy-eight years old.
OL: What is the film scene like in Jordan?
MS: I was surprised by the resources that Jordan has for filmmakers. Filmmaking in the Middle East is not very recognized. It's still very new but Jordan has invested a lot of money in filmmaking and media production in the last 10 years or more. They have The Royal Film Commission which gives a lot of grants every year and we were recipients of a film grant from the Jordan Film Fund and they made our lives easier shooting this film, they gave us the cameras we needed, permits, and offered police officers to shut down areas. Jordan is a film hub for a lot of international films. A now lot of American films are also shot there including Aladdin, Transformers, Star Wars, and Dune.
OL: Tell us a little about your background. Where you are based?
MS: I am currently in Washington DC, I was mostly raised in Kuwait. My family immigrated to the States when I was still a kid. I started at George Mason’s doing a computer science major and a few years later, I changed my major in my third year at college to filmmaking. I used to see the film students coming out of their classes with all their film equipment, and I was jealous. I’ve directed two short films professionally. One short doc and one narrative. Now I’m developing my first narrative feature film and I work as a TA with Professor and Sundance-winning filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu, so I am still learning.
OL: And what do you have planned next?
MS: I am trying to tell untold stories. I think we have a lot of stories that must be told, and they have not been told yet, due to lack of representation or misrepresentation. Now I’m working on my first narrative feature film. Part of it actually talks about the mix of identities, like being Palestinian American. The film’s main topic is miscarriage and stillbirth in birth tourism. I was inspired by a personal story that happened to my sister. My surroundings are the inspiration for my storytelling.
Touchline screens at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, more info here