Sarah Beddington (director)
05 August 2022 (released)
03 August 2022
The viewer’s reaction to Fadia’s Tree will probably depend on where they are on the vexed issue of Israel and Palestine overall and the refugee status of those exiled in 1948. One side does not recognise the refugees or their descendants right to return, the other emphatically does and will forever pursue that claim. It’s a seemingly intractable problem that Fadia’s Tree doesn’t set out to resolve, just tell a very personal story.
Spread over fifteen years director Sarah Beddington tells the story of Fadia Loubani, a Palestinian refugee now in one of the camps in Lebanon. Her charge to Sarah is to find a mulberry tree that grew by her grandfather’s house in their village. The tree is symbolic that the family have roots in that territory and that they may one day return.
Fadia’s ancestral home is in what is now Northern Israel and to which she is not permitted to go. She, her family and friends live in one of the refugee camps in Lebanon. These have been there for fifty years and even though they have UN refugee status, they are to all intents and purposes small towns. The conditions and infrastructure are terrible yet there is work and education.
What is interesting here is the insight that Beddington provides into a population that are now fifth generation, and well removed from the events of 1948. A conversation in a barbers between a young man and an elderly lady is telling in that there is a generation whose priority is to try and get on with life as it is and return to their ancestral lands is a fading thought.
Yet that is in contrast to what is taught to children. Led by their teachers they tell their classmates about the towns and villages they come from, places, almost certainly, they have never known. Added to this is an older generation who still resent the British for their part in the whole mess. It’s a toxic mire of social problems, politics and propaganda.
Beddington’s search for the tree takes her to the border between the countries and she becomes acquainted with the ornithologists who are studying the birds and their migration roots, cue metaphors of open cross borders and freedom.
There is a potted history of the situation and no doubt the film can be seen as one sided. That however could be countered by the fact that this is a very personal story based on a long-standing friendship between Beddington and Fadia.
Trying to prise the film away from the politics, what can’t be denied is the psychological effect this quest had on Fadia. With such total conviction focussed on the presence of this tree one wonders what the effect would be if the tree had been destroyed or indeed never existed. And that fear is carried very effectively by Beddington throughout the film.