While making her feature directorial debut, The Teacher, writer-director Farah Nabulsi had to learn a painful but necessary part of the editing process: killing your darlings.
A heartbreaking and inspiring story about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, The Teacher had its world premiere last week at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film stars Saleh Bakri, who also starred in Nabulsi’s Oscar-nominated short film “The Present,” as Basem El-Saleh, a school teacher who is secretly involved in Palestinian resistance efforts that involve harboring an abducted solider from the Israeli National Defence Forces.
The film also stars Imogen Poots, Muhammad Abed Elrahman, Mahmoud Bakri, Stanley Townsend, Ruba Blal, Andrea Irvine, Paul Herzberg, and Nabil Al Raee.
Farah Nabulsi on the Making of The Teacher
Nabulsi, a British citizen of Palestinian descent, found it difficult but necessary to whittle away some of her favorite scenes in order to underscore the most powerful emotional elements of the story.
“I’ll let you know a secret: one of the most painful, painful parts of this entire filmmaking process was the last 30% of the edit, where you’re literally killing off your babies,” Nabulsi tells MovieMaker.
She chose to remove some of her most beloved scenes, she adds, “not for want of them not being well-performed or being powerful scenes, but because there are so, so many powerful, emotional moments in this story that I didn’t want them to become too frequent.”
To her, pacing is one of the most essential parts of the filmmaking process.
“The most important thing is, you build the pace and you build that rhythm. You want that final moment in the film and the main kind of climactic moment to really have the highest emotional value, regardless of other things taking place earlier,” she says. “So I had to actually remove some of these other moments in order to achieve… these kinds of emotional moments. It wasn’t so much that I was building them — it was more that I had to take away.”
Nabulsi actually drew on some real-life events while writing The Teacher. The abducted Israeli soldier character was inspired by the real-life Israeli National Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by Palestinian freedom fighters in 2006 and was released in 2011.
“The story really is the accumulation of all these different real-life events that have taken place in militarily occupied and colonized Palestine. Even though I was born and raised and educated in the UK, in London, my heritage, my blood, is Palestinian. It was during one of my trips to Palestine that I came across this story about Gilad Shalit,” she says.
“He was released in 2011 [in exchange] for over 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners, hundreds of whom were women and children. At the time, I distinctly remember being blown away by that number — the imbalance in the value of human life,” she adds. “I met with and had conversations with numerous Palestinians who have experienced firsthand much of the cruel and absurd and terrible things that also inspired the story and take place in the film — some of which I’ve witnessed myself as well, such as the home demolitions and child prisoners and military detention and the settler violence and vandalism. So it’s this kind of amalgamation of all these different true events.”
By leading with the emotional elements of the story, Nabulsi hopes it will reach audiences on a personal level.
“My intention with this film is to take audiences on an intense emotional journey into the lives and experiences of our characters, and I really hope I leave them contemplating the real-life struggles and the choices and the decisions the characters make, and this cruel reality in which they are forced to make them,” Nabulsi says. “My hope, most of all, is to touch audiences on an emotional level and leave them wanting to know more.”
Main Image: Muhammad Abed El Rahman and Saleh Bakri in The Teacher