Mohammad Bakri is probably the most widely acclaimed Israeli-Arab actor and filmmaker today. He has starred in countless films and has appeared on stage in Palestine, Israel and abroad.
Bakri was born in the village of Bi’neh in the Galilee in 1953 and went to elementary school there. He attended high school in Haifa and studied acting and Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University from which he graduated in 1976.
Since that year Bakri has been acting professionally at various theatres in Israel and Palestine. He has appeared at the Habima Theatre, Israel’s national theatre, and the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, at the Haifa Theatre, at Jerusalem’s Khan Theatre, and at Al-Kasaba Theatre in Ramallah. He also took part in TV programmes for children, often appearing as a storyteller.
Bakri has performed in many plays, ranging from the classics such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, to plays written by Arab playwrights such as The Immigrant by George Shehadeh, The Clown by Muhammad Al-Maghout, and The Night and the Mountain by Abdel Ghaffar Makkawi.
He has also appeared in one-man plays which he adapted to the stage and directed as well. “The Pessoptimist,” based on the eponymous novel by Palestinian writer Emil Habibi, is perhaps the most popular of Bakri’s one-man plays. “The Anchor” is another such play written by Syrian author Hanna Mina. The play, “Abu Marmar” about Palestinian prisoners, was written by Bakri himself.
Bakri also directed several plays, such as Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, and Samir and Yonathan, which is based on the book by Daniella Carmi about a Palestinian boy, Samir, who enters an Israeli hospital for surgery. The initial fear and antagonism that he feels is mitigated by his bond with Yonathan, an Israeli boy also at the hospital.
Likewise, Bakri has achieved local and international success on the silver screen. As an actor he stared in “Haifa” (1995) by Rashid Mashharawi; “The Milky Way” by Ali Nassar, which won the Wolgin Award at the 1997 Jerusalem International Film Festival; “Beyond the Walls” (1984), nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film at the 1984 American Academy Awards, and “Beyond the Walls II” (1994), both by Uri Barabash; “Hanna K.” (1983) by Greek director Costas Gavras; and “Private” (2004) by Italian director Saverio Costanzo and which won the Golden Leopard award for best actor at that year’s Locarno International Film Festival.
As a movie director Bakri has two documentary films to his credit: “1948” and “Jenin …Jenin,” the film that he made following the Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp in 2002 and which created a lot of controversy in Israel, with most movie theatres refusing to screen it.