Palestinian graffiti

Fred Rice and Sameh Zoabi met almost a decade ago when the two were students at Columbia University’s film school. Little did they know that their budding friendship would eventually bring them to Seattle, where their feature film Man Without a Cell Phone will be screening at the Northwest Film Forum this weekend.

“Sameh and I really hit it off back then,” says Rice. “We had a good relationship and repartee. That’s what you need to collaborate with someone on writing a film.”

The relationship proved fruitful, as Rice was able to leverage his comedy-writing talents while Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli citizen, leveraged his connections in the Israeli film industry to produce Man Without a Cell Phone — what Rice calls a “gentle” comedy.

“[Zoabi] wanted to make a Palestinian ‘American Graffiti,’” says Rice, who wrote the screenplay and now lives in Seattle fulltime. “It sort of blossomed from there.”

The story is a coming-of-age tale about a young Arab-Israeli man, Jawdat. More interested in chasing girls than studying for admission to university, Jawdat’s already tense relationship with his conservative father, Salem, is complicated further when a cell phone company builds a tower on Salem’s land.

“[Jawdat is] sort of a slacker,” says Rice, adding that the film is “about him trying to find his footing. He eventually has to find his voice and take a stand with his father.”

While most people might expect the film to have a strong political message, audiences may be surprised to find that the politics are mostly hidden within the subplot that highlights a David versus Goliath (in this case, Salem versus the cell phone company) theme. Rice says that this lack of a strong political viewpoint makes Man Without a Cell Phone “a different kind of Palestinian film.”

“Politics are in it, but they’re not really at the forefront,” he says, adding, “I don’t really feel like preaching to people. I just want to tell a story.”

Rice is excited to see the film, which has already been distributed in France and Israel, make a home in American markets. He and Zoabi will be speaking with the audience and answering questions about the film after the screening on Sunday, June 9 at 8 p.m. at the Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave., Seattle).

This piece originally appeared on

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