Known as the site of Rachel’s tomb and the birthplace of Jesus, the city of Bethlehem is revered as one of the holiest places in the world by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Yet for a Palestinian teenager growing up in the 1980s, the city felt small and stifling. To her proud father’s chagrin, Leila Sansour left Bethlehem at the age of 17 to study in Europe. Little did she anticipate that as an adult, she would move back to the Middle East to film a documentary over a span of more than half a decade. Open Bethlehem chronicles Sansour’s emotionally charged return to her homeland, and charts how the settlements and military restrictions—including an eight-meter high security wall the Israeli government constructed around Bethlehem after the second intifada—have affected the political and cultural landscape of this ancient city. Narrated by Sansour herself, Open Bethlehem shows the filmmaker on hereponymous international campaign to “open” the walled-off city to tourists and travelers from all religions, to foreign aid and awareness and to citizensthe people who have been cut off from the land on which they have lived for decades.
—- Zoe Pollak
Leila Sansour is an acclaimed film maker with an unconventional portfolio. She is the founder and CEO of Open Bethlehem, an organization that works to bringinternational commitment to the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian question using Bethlehem as a gateway into the situation. She is a well-known speaker on issues of the Middle East. She has written articles and given talks at the British parliament, The Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs (UK), The Royal College of Defense, The Carter Center, Amnesty International and many other venues.
Leila holds a masters degree in philosophy. She began her career in television working as a producer and commissioning editor for MBC and then moved to produce 15 episodes of Aljazeera’s leading documentary series “Encounter in Exile”. She is best known for her feature‐length documentary, 'Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army' 2003, a tragicomic film shot with celebrated British comedian Jeremy Hardy. The film received four‐and five‐star reviews in the national press before its release across cinemas in the UK and its tour in the US as part of Amnesty International's Roaming Film Festival.
Leila’s latest film 'Open Bethlehem' 90min, is planned for release in the UK in Christmas 2014 and in the US for Christmas 2015. The film was shot over five years in Bethlehem during the building of the Israeli wall and has resulted in the gathering of the largest visual archive of the city both past and present. Parts of this collection will be displayed in phases on the film’s website as part of a curated online museum project related to the film.