"Fighting the jihad with the pen is the same as dying for the jihad," says Mahmoud, a young Lebanese man in the opening minutes of Out of Place, which is dedicated to Said.

The film by veteran Japanese director Makoto Sato retraces the late professor's steps through Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, and the United States, and it is as much about Said's life as it is about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Sato shot almost 300 hours of footage over a year to compile the 137-minute film, spending time on both sides of the conflict:

With a Palestinian family in the Ein el-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, residents of the Kibbutz Dan in Israel, Israeli teenagers as well as Palestinian tobacco growers in the segregated Galilean town of Ma'alot-Tarshiha.

Removed from conflict

"I used Said's texts as a guide for my journey through the Middle East," Sato said at an interview in Tokyo. "But I also tried to go there without preconceptions. I felt that task was easier for me, as a Japanese, somewhat removed from the conflict."

Evocatively beautiful shots, such as of mist rolling into the Lebanese town of Dhur Choueir - where Said spent his summers as a child - highlight the harsh realities depicted elsewhere in the film.

In one scene, Sato talks to young boys playing in a devastated section of the Palestinian city of Ramallah who talked about the separation wall Israel is building that will meander into the West Bank.

"This place used to be beautiful. Bulldozers came and destroyed it," one boy says. "Once I was just sitting here and the [Israeli] army came... A soldier asked: 'How do you like the wall? Is it pretty?' I told him, 'It's ugly, like your face.'"

Biography

Born in 1935 in Jerusalem, then part of British-ruled Palestine, Said moved to Cairo and then to the United States at age 15.

He eventually received a master's and PhD from Harvard University, and launched a successful academic career, most of it as a professor of English literature at Columbia University in New York.

Said wrote passionately about the Palestinian cause, as well as on a variety of other subjects, from his academic specialty to music and culture.

He won a cultish following for his polemic Orientalism, in which he denounced a long tradition of false and romanticised images of the East in Western culture, which he said served to justify colonialism.

"He [Edward Said] has left us a very complex legacy which we must build on"

Miriam Said,
Edward's widow

Said was also a prominent member of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile for 14 years, stepping down in 1991.

After the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Said criticised Yasser Arafat because he believed the PLO leader had made a bad deal for the Palestinians.

Out of Place quotes liberally from Said's works, including his memoir of that name, and many of his political writings.

The film also draws on interviews with a number of academics, including Noam Chomsky, and members of Said's family.

"It always made him sad that despite his writings, and despite his massive popular following, and all his admirers, he always felt kind of inadequate because he hadn't changed things on the ground," Said's son, Wadie, says.

Said spent much of the last years of his life jointly running a summer workshop for young musicians from Israel and Arab countries in different parts of the world with the Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim.

"Edward believed that a separation between people cannot be a solution to issues that separate people," Miriam, Edward's widow, said at a recent film launch in Tokyo.

"He has left us a very complex legacy which we must build on."

Said died of leukaemia in September 2003 at age 67.

Out of Place features speech in Arabic, Hebrew, English and Japanese, with English or Japanese subtitles.

The Japanese version launched in Tokyo in mid-May, and an English version has been entered in several overseas film festivals.