Beyond the Review: Theo Panagopoulos on ‘Foragers’

We are honoured to publish this reflection as part of Take One Action’s ‘Beyond the Review‘ initiative, supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. In August 2022, we hosted a two-part workshop – delivered by by gal-dem’s First Person editor, film critic and author Katie Goh – that invited participants to explore the way personal writing and film criticism can meet. Born out of the workshops, these commissions invite a reflection on the connections between local struggles and global realities in the TOAFF22 programme, while showcasing the talent and insight of the authors and supporting the development of their own practice.

First up, Greek-Lebanese-Palestinian film director and film programmer, Theo Panogopoulos, has written a review of Foragers, screening in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness as part of #TOAFF22:

Za’atar, the culinary herb from the Middle East, has always had a special place in my heart. When I think of the herb, my mind gets transported into different places. I remember its beautiful and complex aroma that connects my senses to my emotional core as an Arab person. 

I remember my trips to my mother’s hometown Beirut and specifically the street markets where they would be making man’ooshe, a white flatbread, or khobz topped by za’aatar and different herbs. 

I remember my mother’s stories, telling me how her Palestinian parents would prepare man’ooshe every morning for breakfast and how the kitchen would be filled with the aroma of za’atar when they would take it out of the oven. 

However, after watching Jumana Manna’s beautiful and insightful documentary Foragers, I also think of za’atar, and its fellow plant ‘akkoub, as an act of resistance against systemic oppression.

Foragers is a hybrid documentary film around the practices of foraging the wild edible plants za’atar and akkoub in the region of Galilei and Jerusalem in Palestine / Israel.  It presents through observational filming, fictional scenes and some archive material, the process of traditional foraging by Palestinians and how it goes against the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority who have declared za’atar and akkoub as protective species.

The film and specifically Manna’s directing manages through a relatively niche and focused story to ask big questions on the systemic and legislative approaches of oppressing marginalised communities, in this case Palestinians in the region. She uses a meditative and sensitive approach to explore how the Israeli State sneakily legitimises its apartheid structures. Similarly to how indigenous populations have been treated in the US, Australia and Canada,  the veil of science is used to delegitimatise folk and traditional practices that have been in place for centuries. People are classified as civilised versus uncivilised and the rational, white(r) and “Western” Parks Authority as trying to “protect” the plants against the folk and “Eastern” sensibilities carried by Palestinian people in the region. 

Many films would end there just by presenting the oppression and raising awareness on the topic. However, Foragers goes a step forward. It presents the everyday practices of local people who both unconsciously and consciously resist the top-down violence of colonial laws around preservation practices. It highlights the joy of picking the herbs, the tenderness of speaking about food around the dinner table and the pride of being part of a community that respects the land they were born in. 

Foragers de-centres the discussion by allowing the characters to be themselves and to have their own agency which is informed by centuries of history and oral tradition which the Park Authority wants to erase. Thus, the film becomes a revolutionary act itself by exposing the details that couldn’t be “flashy” enough to be part of a Western headline about the Palestinian struggle.

This sentiment is encapsulated in the memorable scene depicting Zeidan going out with a flashlight in the middle of the night to secretly pick ‘akkoub. In the darkness of the night, you can clearly hear sounds of ‘akkoub being picked, the steps of his dogs walking by his side and the cicadas chirping in the distance. It’s a moment when we clearly feel the embodied urgency of what it means to just exist as a Palestinian. We also feel the absurdity of how this existence is constantly being controlled and oppressed.

When just the existence of people is against the law, the film feels proud to be a law breaker itself.