The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival has given SLO Review the opportunity to review some of the narrative and documentary feature films on its 2024 program schedule. Follow the links to purchase tickets to see these notable films for yourself.

Stories of a Family’s Generations

Bye Bye Tiberias is an intimate documentary about four generations of women. It is narrated by its director, Lina Soualem, the daughter of a Palestinian woman named Hiam who emigrated to France in her 20s to become an actress.

Using old family video footage and documentary footage, and covering different time spans from 1940 through 2018, Soualem tells the story of her Palestinian family evicted from their home in Tiberias and exiled to Palestine in 1948. Tiberias is an ancient city on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, named after the Roman emperor Tiberius and which has, since 1948, been a part of Israel.

Soualem’s mother brings her back to Palestine from France, beginning when her daughter was 18 months old, to visit during the summer and meet her extended family. The dialog is in French and Arabic with English subtitles, and the film has a tender, moving score.

Scenes of village life, a wedding, a child playing with her grandmother, and many family dinners are intertwined with scenes of the 1948 Palestine war, but the film does not dwell on the violence. It does tell, through the stories of the family’s generations, of great loss and sadness.

When the English and Israelis exiled them, they lost everything: their farm, their animals, their home. The scenes of Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, whose occupants were forbidden from returning to Palestine, are contrasted with scenes of Tiberias in 1940, before the exile.

It is a story of paradise found and lost.

Bye Bye Tiberias was made before the current war. You can only wonder if the family’s exiled home in Palestine still stands, and how they are now faring.

Soualem wrote the film along with Nadine Naous and Gladys Joujou. They bring into sharp focus the actual human beings affected by the turmoil, such that the viewer cares about them as people. At times it is hard to keep track of the changing time frames, but the investment in your time will increase your understanding of, and compassion for, these far-away people.

Bye Bye Tiberias was released in January and as of this writing has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

:: Karen Gray

The screening of Bye Bye Tiberias (run time 83 minutes) at the SLO International Film Festival is sponsored by Arab American Heritage Month Central Coast and SLO Pal Solidarity.