A Magical Substance Flows Into Me

Not available for screening anymore

A Magical Substance Flows Into Me

Directed by Jumana Manna

  • Germany, Palestine, United Kingdom 2016; 68 min
  • Original version: Arabic, Hebrew, English
  • Genre: Documentary
    • Films On Art International Award - T-Mobile New Horizons IFF


A Magical Substance flows into me opens with a crackly voice recording. The voice is that of Dr. Robert Lachmann, an enigmatic Jewish-German ethnomusicologist who emigrated to 1930s Palestine. While attempting to establish an archive and department of Oriental Music at the Hebrew University, Lachmann created a radio program for the Palestine Broadcasting Service called “Oriental Music”, where he would invite members of local communities to perform their vernacular music. Over the course of the film, Jumana Manna—herself a Palestinian from Jerusalem—follows in Lachmann’s footsteps and visits Kurdish, Moroccan and Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, members of urban and rural Palestinian communities, Bedouins and Coptic Christians, as they exist today within the geographic space of historical Palestine. Manna engages them in conversation around their music, while lingering over that music’s history as well as its current, sometimes endangered state. She asks these individuals to perform, and they do. Intercutting these motley encounters with musicians, are a series of vignettes of Manna interacting with her own parents in the bounds of their family home. In fact, the domestic is a trope that is littered throughout this film with recurring kitchen, living room, and elevator scenes. In Manna’s metaphorical excavation of an endlessly contested history, the film’s preoccupations include: the complexities embedded in language, as well as desire and the aural set against the notion of impossibility. Within our hackneyed one-dimensional ideas about Palestine/Israel, this impossibility becomes itself a trope that defines the Palestinian landscape.

Director's Statement

Lachmann realized that from a scholarly perspective, the distinction between Arab and Jew, which was already ubiquitous in Jerusalem at that time, was false and detrimental to the study of Oriental music. His refusal to recognize this divide made it difficult for him to raise funds for his research. He proposed a radio program to the Palestine Broadcasting Service called “Oriental Music,” hoping to challenge this divide and to educate listeners, especially European listeners, about the diversity within Palestine and the importance of cross-cultural study. My film is based on this program, which was a failure in certain ways. I aim to question why it failed, and I ask what the stakes of such a project might be in the present. I made a conscious decision not to invite all the groups of people to one studio, as Lachmann did, but instead to visit them in their respective towns, villages, and cities. Although there is a kind of potentiality within the film, I’m also addressing the segregation of Israel and Palestine and the impossibility of reconstituting the space of Mandate Palestine in the present day. It does not idealize this time and the Mandate, but rather helps provide a space from which another Palestine can be imagined.

Since the home is the heart of any colonial struggle, I decided to shoot the film in people’s homes. It’s partly coincidental that a lot of conversations take place in the kitchen, but I also see an echo between the craft of music and the making of food, a kind of corporeal memory. The film is very much about proximity, the limitations of language, the limitations of these encounters, and a certain violence. But it is also about desiring, and seeking to constitute something anew.