Open Bethlehem

A big film about a small town

Directed by Leila Sansour

Open Bethlehem follows Palestinian director Leila Sansour’s extraordinary journey to her hometown – the legendary city of Bethlehem

Armed with a camera and a family car that keeps breaking down, she sets out to make an intimate portrait of a historical town in peril. Bethlehem is soon to be surrounded by a wall. Five years and 700 hours of footage later, the results are most unexpected.

Leila left the city as a teenager and vowed never to return, but decides to make an exception. She intends her film to be a tribute to her late father, founder of Bethlehem University, and a man regarded as a hero by his town’s folk. Leila plans to make an epic film about a legendary town in crisis, but just few months into filming her life and the film take an unexpected turn when Carol, Leila’s last relative in town, persuades her to stay to start a campaign to save Bethlehem.

As the pair launch Open Bethlehem Leila finds herself trapped behind a wall in the very place she so much wanted to leave. Her plan to stay a year stretches to five, and is only resolved when she realises that, sometimes, the biggest experiences on earth take flight from the smallest places.

The film reveals a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation. Drawing on Leila’s footage and rare archive material, it is perhaps the largest visual archive of Bethlehem in the world. Plans are currently being discussed to turn the collection into a museum.

Visit the film’s website, and find out more about the Open Bethlehem campaign


“WorldView went out of its way to support me and it was one of the first institutional funds I received. So you were the pioneers and I will always remember this.”  – Leila Sansour

“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