Open Bethlehem

​Autumn/Winter 2017 USA Release​

Throughout 2017 our Open Bethlehem film continued to be screened in Europe and the Middle East. We had a special screening at Friends House in September, after which Leila  left to tour the USA with a special push between October and Christmas. In mid-December, screenings were held on Capitol Hill and it was great honour for Leila to give the OB Passport to Congresswoman Barbara Lee – the only elected USA representative to vote against the Iraq invasion post 9/11 attacks, making her a hero of the anti-war movement. The screenings came as Trump declared the USA would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is now a plan to develop a Congressional visit to Bethlehem. Open Bethlehem is now on Vimeo ​and the ​30 minute abridge​d​ version is here​.

The Film

Open Bethlehem was completed autumn 2014; released Christmas 2014 and its North America release was in 2016/2017.

I am delighted that Tipping Point has become the home of my film in the UK. I couldn’t have a better partner in my journey to bring the story of Bethlehem to the world.
   – Leila Sansour – Open Bethlehem

TPFF was the main funding partner on the film 2010-15; through editing, post-production and outreach.

Open Bethlehem reached around 35,000 people in cinemas and other venues across the country and launched with a VIP reception and screening for 600 decision-makers, media, academ­ics, at RGS, hosted by Melvyn Bragg. NGOs working on Palestine promoted the film and there was considerable public and media interest in the film, as it raised awareness on the plight of Bethlehem under occupation.

One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen, about this unreported story. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one family and one town- Bethlehem. See the film, then go to Bethlehem and see for yourself.
Jon Snow

Since its sell-out launch at the RGS in September 2014, Leila’s film has been screened in towns, capital cities and festivals across the UK, USA, Russia and the Middle East, including her home town, Bethlehem.

Video and photos from the RGS event here

And you can watch  Open Bethlehem online here

Ultimately, it is the forging of a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestine that will eventually lead to the dismantling of the wall around Bethlehem, and the rest of Palestinian cities, and the preservation of Bethlehem’s heritage – both its living communities and their land. It would be impossible to save Bethlehem without granting Palestinians the right to self determination.  It is equally impossible to envisage a pluralist Middle East, a major factor for the future of democracy and open society in the entire region, without saving model cities like Bethlehem.  These ideas are at the heart of the OPEN BETHLEHEM campaign.

You can find out more about the campaign that accompanies the film

Open Bethlehem film & campaign website

What would you do to save Bethlehem?

In 2004 director Leila Sansour set out to find the answer for herself.  Four years later, she found it.

This documentary is a personal story filmed over four critical years in the life of Bethlehem. This most famous little town also happens to be Leila Sansour’s hometown. She left it as a teenager, pledging never to return. But in 2004 she went home for Christmas. The journey changed her life.

The film is shot over four Christmases in the life of Bethlehem as, piece-by-piece, hundreds of slabs of concrete are lowered into place to build a wall that will seal the city from the outside world. The story is told through the eyes of the film’s director. It is her own very personal story.

No one has tried to tell the story of my town beyond the stereotypes of the Nativity or the brutality of military occupation.


Survey: Americans back Bethlehem but not sure where it is

Early on, as Leila and her team started making the documentary, they decided to commission a nationwide survey in the United States about American perceptions of Bethlehem. The findings where stunning and in total contrast to another survey we commissioned in Bethlehem at the same time.

The survey, carried out by top US political pollsters Zogby International, showed that only 15 percent of Americans realized that the biblical Bethlehem is a Palestinian city and even fewer still guessed that its inhabitants were a mix of Christians and Muslims or that Bethlehem was located in the West Bank. 15000 Americans were canvassed.

The Zogby survey showed strong support for the town in the US, where 65.5% of the population wanted the UN to list it as a world heritage site. It is worth mentioning that Bethlehem was finally listed as a world heritage site only in 2012.

The film crew also conducted 150 interviews in the streets of London at the same time producing a humorous montage of people’s perceptions. One woman said: “I don’t know where it is but I strongly believe the men there must be very attractive”. The clip did not make it into the film but it will be part of our press kit and promotional film take outs.

To read more about the survey


Here is Open Bethlehem’s briefing paper produced for last week’s UK parliamentary debate on settlements. Open Bethlehem met with MPs before the debate and is keen to work with all those who are campaigning for an immediate freeze on settlement building It will be a challenging task but it was encouraging to hear the resounding support for a Palestinian state in the British parliament and the condemnation of settlements by MPs from all sides.