Alumni Spotlight: Annemarie Jacir '02

September 10, 2019


The Alumni Spotlight is a place to hear from the School of the Arts alumni community about their journeys as artists and creators.

Annemarie Jacir has been working in independent cinema since 1998 and has written, directed and produced a number of award-winning films including The Satellite Shooters (2001), Until WhenA Few Crumbs for the Birds, and A Post Oslo History. She was named one of Filmmaker magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Cinema. Jacir’s like twenty impossibles (2003), was the first Arab short film to be an official selection of the Cannes International Film Festival and went on to be a Student Academy Awards finalist, winning more than 15 awards at International festivals including Best Film at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, Chicago International Film Festival, Institute Du Monde Arabe Biennale, Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival, and IFP/New York. like twenty impossibles was named one of the ten best films of 2003 by Gavin Smith of Film Comment Magazine.

Jacir’s Salt of this Sea (2008) was the first feature film by a Palestinian woman director, and was Palestine's submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The film won the Muhr Arab Award for Best Screenplay at the Dubai International Film Festival, a Cinema in Motion award at the 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival and a FIPRESCI award. Jacir’s When I Saw You (2012) won the NETPAC Critics Award for Best Asian Film at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival and was selected as the Palestinian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.

Jacir is chief curator and founder of the groundbreaking Dreams of a Nation Palestinian cinema project. She has taught at Columbia University, Bethlehem University, Birzeit University and in refugee camps in Palestine and Lebanon. Jacir works as a freelance editor and cinematographer as well as a film curator, and is a board member of Alwan for the Arts, a cultural organization devoted to North African and Middle Eastern art. She is a founding member of the Palestinian Filmmakers’ Collective. In 2011, renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou selected her to be his first protégée as part of the Rolex Arts Initiative.

Jacir’s Wajib (2017) is one of five films selected for Dubai goes to Cannes, the Cannes Film Market’s pix-in-post industry showcase. Wajib has received support through the Dubai Film Connection co-production platform, where it won the top award, and will receive post-production funding from the Doha Film Institute.

Jacir co-founded Philistine Films, an independent production company, focusing on productions related to the Arab world and Iran. Having been banned from returning to Palestine, she now lives in Amman, Jordan.

Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

Two different faculty members inspired me deeply albeit in very different ways. I was lucky to learn the craft of screenwriting with Lewis Cole who pushed me to understand story, structure and even though he was classic in many ways he never made me feel that the unanswered, inexplicable poetry inherent in writing was wrong. In fact, he encouraged it. His love for the craft of writing and his enthusiasm for collaboration left a deep impression on me.  

Richard Peña affected me and influenced me in a whole other way. Richard opened my eyes to films I wasn’t familiar with, with ways of thinking and connecting to the larger world, the world around us. Probably the greatest addition to my film education was also that Richard gave me passes to the New York Film Festival and New Directors/New Films and I didn’t miss a screening. Those films blew my mind and I found my own direction and my own voice through them.

What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?

The political atmosphere was tense. There was a strong resistance to our voices being heard as Arabs, and especially as Palestinians. I remember several disturbing incidents on campus – being spit on at a memorial, receiving death threats which ended with campus police walking us to our homes and to the subway, etc. There was an atmosphere of aggression around us. Nonetheless we were organizing all the time – there was a group of us who felt the need for social justice, equality, and end to violence and occupation was (and is) critical. And despite the hostility we felt around us, I can say we also felt things were changing, that more and more people were open to hear about what is happening in Palestine. I remember a lot of solidarity events, Puerto Rican solidarity, African American solidarity, etc.  So many marginalized people in the United States who could identify with the struggle for equality and freedom. So there was a great feeling of hope. I remember I organized people to go from Columbia down to DC for a Right of Return march. Initially I booked a van, which then turned into a stagecoach bus and then I had to organize a second one as every seat was booked. Those years at Columbia are full of memories from the many demonstrations, teach-ins, and actions we organized both on and off campus. I was always aware of the university’s history of resistance too, and Lewis Cole and many others who were involved in the 1968 protests on campus. I really felt something incredible was happening. And then the tragedy of September 11. An awful moment which also affected our community so much and once again we were thrown back. 

Read more from the "Alumni Spotlight" series

Annemarie Jacir