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A Stone’s Throw review: An essential watch

An abstract image over a stone wall in the film A Stone's Throw

With its fascinating and groundbreaking visuals, Razan AlSalah’s short film A Stone’s Throw is a necessary documentary. 

Director: Razan AlSalah
Genre: Documentary
Run Time: 40′
Screening Date: April 27, 2024
Where to watch: at the Open City Documentary Festival

A Stone’s Throw is a new documentary by Palestinian filmmaker Razan AlSalah: the film was presented at the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival and, most recently, at the Open City Documentary Festival in London. With this movieproducer and director AlSalah takes us on a journey to Zirku Island in the Persian Gulf through various types of digital media.

At first, this highly elaborate and laborious technique may seem too artificial to feature in a documentary, but it is in its artificiality that the film eventually finds its truth

As A Stone’s Throw starts, a twice-exiled Palestinian elder called Amine takes us through the journey of the film, unveiling the recurring violence of oil and labour extraction. The personal story quickly becomes intertwined with the larger historical context of the region and its history of extraction and colonisation. As the documentary goes on, we learn the story of his displacements which took him from Haifa to Beirut to Zirku Island, where the majority of the documentary is virtually set. Zirku Island, as the audience quickly learns, is an Emirati offshore oil platform and work camp for people like Amine where any type of filming and photography is highly controlled by the government and forbidden if not officially approved. 

But how do you portray a place where filming is prohibited? A Stone’s Throw attempts to give an answer to this dilemma in its own way. In order to get around the no filming issue, AlSalah entrusts this story to archival material, through the use and close analysis of an old picture, and satellite imagery, produced through coding and digital imagery. Therefore, the documentary allows us a unique look and insider access into a place that was never seen before as the director – and consequentially the audience – digitally trespasses an otherwise impenetrable and highly controlled land.  

Interestingly, the film does not hide any of this: the photo is intentionally grainy and sometimes hard to see when zoomed in and the digital reconstruction of the landscape is highlighted by the visual presence of specific coding instructions on the screen. This is because the difficulty of visually portraying the documentary’s visuals is an integral part of the story narrated in A Stone’s Throw. As the movie narrates a story of exile, it is not afraid to use various digital means to actually show us what it is talking about. 

An aerian image of Zirku Island in the film A Stone's Throw
An aerian image of Zirku Island in the film A Stone’s Throw (Open City Documentary Festival)

Short films are often tricky due to their limited time with the audience and by the time A Stone’s Throw finishes, it seems like the documentary still has a lot more to say. I also think it could have done a lot more visually. While the film presents us with very interesting and original visuals, I could not help but feel that it was fairly repetitive after a while: even if the movie is a little more than half an hour long, there are only so many times when you can show the same pictures, no matter how interesting that may be to see and analyse. 

A Stone’s Throw is a story of exile, digital resistance, and disappearing memories that rings very true to today’s oppression and war against Palestine. It is also a fascinating example of how we can use technology and new media to our advantage in storytelling when this is hindered by forces beyond our control. Of course, such a product is even more relevant and necessary in today’s political climate as its reflection on Palestinian exile feels more timely than ever. Is the film perfect? Probably not, but its narrative and visual experimentation are enough to make it stand out as a fascinating example of what subversive documentary filmmaking can look like in 2024

A Stone’s Throw was screened at the Open City Documentary Festival on April 27, 2024.

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