Elia Suleiman was born in Nazareth in 1960. He lived in New York from 1981 to 1993. While in the United States, he has directed his first two short films: Introduction to the End of an Argument and Homage by Assassination, winning numerous awards. In 1994, the European Commission had entrusted him with the mission of creating a Film and Media Department at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
His first feature film, Chronicle of a Disappearance, won the Best First Film Prize at the 1996 Venice Film Festival. In 2002, Divine Intervention won the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize of the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Best Foreign Film Prize at the European Film Awards in Rome. In 2007, he was chosen as one of the 35 directors of To Each His Own Cinema a collective film for the Cannes Film Festival 60th anniversary. His last feature film The Time That Remains was in the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. In 2012, he completed a short film titled Diary of a Beginner, part of a collective feature titled 7 Days in Havana. The film was in the official selection Un Certain Regard of Cannes Film Festival.
Elia Suleiman has participated in numerous festivals as jury member including Cannes Film Festival (2006) and was a President of the Jury of The New Horizons Competition, Abu Dhabi Film Festival (2010), Deauville Asian Film Festival (2012), Rotterdam Film Festival (2014)
He has been given tributes among which are the MoMA in New York; Istanbul Film Festival; Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival in Portugal. He was the recipient of the 1992 Rockefeller Award and the 2008 Prince Claus Award. In 2009, he was named the Variety Magazine Middle-East filmmaker of the year in Abu Dhabi Film Festival where he was awarded the Black Pearl Award for The Time That Remains.
In 2011, he was the recipient of Fondazione Roma-Mediterraneo Award for the dialogue between cultures, at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy.
Elia Suleiman is currently serving as artistic advisor for the Doha Film Institute and is preparing his next feature film.