Mohammed Saffouri loves film, but was expected to pursue a career in computer science. Halfway through his studies at George Mason University Saffouri decided to turn to that love in spite of a lack of support from family and friends. The results of that turn have gotten him experience directing three films.
Saffouri’s latest film is Touchline, a short film about his grandfather who as a child was invited to play on the Palestinian National Soccer team in 1948. That dream was halted when conflict broke out between Palestine and then then new state of Israel, a conflict which has raged to this day. But in his way, Saffouri has taken on his grandfather’s mantle in pursuing his dream even as his grandfather was denied his.
Fairfax County Times spoke with Saffouri about Touchline, filming during the pandemic, as well as its parallels to ongoing strife between the two nations.
You just had a showing of Touchline at the Angelika Film Center here in Fairfax, what was that like compared to other showing of your films?
It was a private screening, the only difference between this and the others is that this was a private screening. All my previous films were part of the George Mason Film Program so I was doing them for classes or class requirements and we were participating in their showcases and film festivals at the end of the semester.
The film will be making the rounds of the film festivals and they prefer to have the film to themselves and not playing elsewhere, so the showing was a private thing for friends and family.
How was it to film this movie during the Coronavirus pandemic?
COVID was the biggest challenge because we were filming in Jordan. I wanted to go there in June but everything was shut down, nothing was moving and everything was under quarantine. I had to go there in August once Jordan opened back up but we had to quarantine for two weeks before we started shooting, which was delayed until October.
I was the only one who couldn’t get in because all the cast and crew were from Jordan.
We had to test everyone for COVID, especially after it was found one of the actors had COVID during a rehearsal. That was an extra cost for the budget.
What was the inspiration for Touchline? Was this based on a true story or a story inserted into real events?
We called it Touchline for two reasons, one is because of the lines around the soccer field. The story is based on my grandfather who was invited to play for the Palestinian National Soccer Team in 1948. The other meaning is that imaginary line that separates a war. That line in warzone that divides both sides is called a touchline in Arabic. The film is placed in 1948 during the Israeli occupation so that’s another reason for the film’s name. My grandfather was forced to leave with his family to Lebanon to escape the conflict, they thought they’d be able to return but never did.
Do you feel that the second definition of the film’s title applies to current events going on between Israel and Palestine? Any parallels?
No, I think it’s a one-sided war. Israel has all the power while the Palestinians defended themselves with rocks. I know that President Biden referred to Hamas but they don’t speak for everyone, they’re a small group in Gaza. And they’re throwing homemade rockets against Israel’s iron dome.
You can see the big difference in the casualties on each side to see who has the power.
So, what’s next? The Film festival circuit? A new movie?
I’m focused on Touchline and the film festival circuit, once that cycle is finished, I’ll see where we go from there.
This interview was edited for length and brevity