Reda is Getting Married

INTERVIEW. With his latest film "A Man Returned," Danish-Palestinian director Mahdi Fleifel hopes to shed new light on refugees' lives on Europe's borders, but also to provide insight into the grave issue of drug addiction in the refugee camps. Berlinale Shorts.

BITTERSWEET. Mahdi Fleifel's "A Man Returned" is a love story from the refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh in Lebanon, a place torn apart from within and without. Photo: Nakba FilmWorks

Mahdi Fleifel spent two years in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh in Lebanon in the 1980s before his family settled in Denmark when he was nine. For years, he has been returning to the camp, resulting in his two previous films "A World Not Ours" (2012) and "Xenos" (2014), both selected for the Berlinale.

I seem to make films by accident – and this new one is no different.

Now the Danish-Palestinian filmmaker is bringing out a new story from Ain El-Helweh, the 30-minute documentary about Reda, 26, whose dream of escaping life in the camp fails after being trapped for three years in Greece. He returns with a heroin addiction to the camp which is being torn apart by internal strife and the effects of the war in Syria. Unperturbed, he commences preparations for his wedding to his childhood sweetheart.

Mahdi Fleifel, who is based in Amsterdam, studied film at the University of Wales and completed an MA in writing at Royal Holloway, London, before he graduated from the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, in 2009. His debut documentary feature from 2012, "A World Not Ours," was widely acclaimed, earning him over thirty awards including prizes at the Berlinale, the Edinburgh Film Festival and DOC NYC.

We asked the director about how "A Man Returned" came about:

How did you come up with the idea for the film?

"You know I seem to make films by accident – and this new one is no different.

"In the summer of 2014, I was doing a residency in Beirut with the Goethe Institute. I was there to write and research for my upcoming narrative feature, 'Men in the Sun,' which has been in development for the last few years with the Danish Film Institute's talent programme New Danish Screen. It's a continuation of 'A World Not Ours' and 'Xenos,' and it is the story of refugees from Lebanon and Syria who try to make it in Europe and end up being trapped in Greece.

A Man Returned Photo: Nakba FilmWorks 

"While in Lebanon, I went to visit my family in the Ain El-Helweh camp and – of course – to watch the 2014 World Cup! One day, I ran into Reda whom I had known as a close friend of Abu Eyad, the main subject of my last two films, and who had also featured briefly in both 'A World Not Ours' and 'Xenos.' Like many of his friends, Reda had tried his luck in Europe and spent three years in Athens. But unlike most of the others, he couldn't survive in Greece, let alone make it to Northern Europe. He had eventually given up and was sent back to the camp."

What is the story?

"Unfortunately, Reda also returned with a heroin addiction, which he picked up in Athens, like so many refugees out there, as a means to cope and survive.

"So the film is a portrait of Reda and his life after his return from Greece, his day-to-day living with his parents and his preparations to get married in the hope of starting a new life – perhaps even of getting sober and freeing himself from his past."

What should the audience take away from your film?

"It's my hope, of course, that the film will shed new light on the ongoing debate of 'refugees and Europe,' but also – and to me most importantly – to provide insight into the ever-increasing problem of drug addiction in the refugee camps today which, due to shame and traditions, seems to have been neglected, with no proper rehabilitation resources, awareness or education on the subject."

More about the film

"A Man Returned" is a British-Dutch-Danish co-production directed and shot by Mahdi Fleifel, who has also produced together with Patrick Campbell for Nakba FilmWorks, a London-based production company established in 2010 by Fleifel and Irish producer Patrick Campbell.

The documentary premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January and is selected for the Berlinale Shorts competition.

A Man Returned
Photo: Nakba FilmWorks