Palestinian Film Festival: A celebration of culture; until the soldiers arrived
The Palestine Cinema Days festival, held for the eighth year in a row, included a record number of 65 films from Palestine and other countries. On its last day, the Israeli army raided the Ramallah Cultural Palace and reminded Palestinians of the nightmarish movie in which they are trapped.
The Palestine Cinema Days festival ended on 8 November with a festive ceremony of awarding the Palestinian Sunbird in the category of best documentary film. The award went to director Abdallah Al-Khatib’s film, Little Palestine: A diary of a siege.
The director, a young social worker, a Palestinian refugee born in Syria, worked as the director of coordinating UN volunteer activities before the Syrian civil war. Thus, he found himself documenting the lives of Palestinians during the brutal closure of the Yarmouk camp, the largest of the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, during the war.
The photographs and pictures that survived the war reached a safe shore somewhere in Europe with this young man, who believed that the documentation would be the last remnant of a camp that was completely destroyed.
The Palestinian Film Festival is being held for the eighth year in a row, at the initiative of the Filmlab Palestine organisation. The festival is dedicated to reviving the cinema and cultural life in Palestine, to strengthening the Sumud [steadfastness] — holding on to the land, to the resistance of the Palestinians through cinema, to encouraging creativity and linking Palestinian artists to the wider world. The festival this year included a record number of 65 films from Palestine and other countries from the West and East such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, England, the United States, Denmark, Iran, Malta, Bosnia, Serbia, Lebanon and Syria, of which 11 are screened for the first time in the Arab world. The screenings took place this year at 15 locations in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Haifa and Gaza.
This year, the screenings were also held for the first time in Nazareth, while in Haifa, three new films were screened for the fourth year that had not been screened within the Green Line before. Next year I marked a goal to push the city of Yafa into the participating cities club. Yafa/Yafo/Jaffa is a city where no less than seven theatres operated before the Nakba and is certainly worthy of this honour.
Occupation in the Hall of Culture
The real drama took place on the last day of the festival. The best scriptwriters and directors could not have come up with a more successful script than that involving the Occupation’s timing at the entrance of the Ramallah Cultural Palace last Monday. In one hall a film was shown about a Palestinian refugee camp, in another, a scintillating discussion took place of the role of the cinema in the liberation of oppressed nations and while all that was taking place the Soldiers of the most moral army in the world raided the compound. They conducted searches, threw gas grenades, and after halting the cultural celebration in the heart of the city of Ramallah, boarded their jeeps and disappeared from the frame on their way to another Occupation mission somewhere in the land.
The Israeli army had to remind Palestinians that they were, as they say in Hebrew, living in a movie, literally and figuratively. It reminded those who celebrated that evening who — just who — was the Lord of the Land, and how quickly can a Palestinian waiting for life’s little joys find themselves arrested, dubbed a rioter or a terrorist and perhaps even “neutralised,” if one of the soldiers would have decided that the entrance ticket to the hall is an instrument that endangers the lives of soldiers.
The soldiers’ raid on the Cultural Palace a few hours before the festival’s closing ceremony did not halt the program; the organisers announced that the show was going on. The photos from the scene of the soldiers’ invasion revitalised the Net, and led to an influx of people onto the scene. Slowly the great hall was filled to capacity, and the best artists, actors, public figures, creators, and journalists marched on the red carpet and were photographed smiling and embracing in their full glory.
After the closing ceremony, the thanks, the speeches and the award ceremony, Festival Artistic Director Laila Abbas presented the festival’s film of the year, صوتك, Casablanca Beats, directed by Moroccan Nabil Ayouch.
The film tells the story of a former rap singer who leads young groups to self-liberation through the art of hip-hop; Young men and women from a silenced generation in Morocco are learning to raise their voices. The young women face, as expected, the sword of patriarchy and conservatism who dislike, to say the least, what is happening on stage, to the point of tragic and inevitable confrontation.
Into this tagine enter French colonialism, gender oppression, conservatism, and religion, as well as the longing for freedom, freedom of speech and democracy spiced with a bit of orientalism to complete the complex and juicy taste of the film.
The opening film of the festival was in my eyes the most significant and important film of the year in the Palestinian and Syrian film industry combined. The film “The Foreigner” (الغريب) is a film by the young director Amir Fakher al-Din, a member of a Syrian Druze family from the Golan Heights. This is a promising first director’s film.
The film takes the viewer to the Golan Heights through the life story of Adnan, a farmer who guards his apple orchard, and is ostracised by his father who sent him to Russia in hopes of him returning as a doctor. In the end, Adnan disappoints the family and himself.
“During the festival, I watched some good and not so good films, even disturbing ones, that hit like a fist in the Stomach,” says Samah Basul, a Palestinian film critic. In her opinion, this year’s program was jam-packed and full of cinematic delights that not only every Palestinian must watch, but every Arab and every person who cares about this world.
I mention to her my impression that the presence of female sexuality and motifs like honour, purity and virginity have been given a more prominent presence at this year’s festival.
“Absolutely,” she replies. “Sometimes this whirlwind of women’s image and role in the most political films has been blatant. There is an obsession of directors, some of them really talented, with the Arab woman’s sexuality and preoccupation with body policing. This discourse is not mature enough yet to put our bodies, the patriarchy, and the oppression of women at the forefront.
“For example, in the film by director Samaher Alqadi, As I Want (كما اريد). Alqadi is a young Palestinian director who grew up in a refugee camp and was able [as a woman] to collect amazing material about the protesters in Egypt during the coup, the sexual harassment in Egypt, the hymen tests that threatened the protesters. But the message she chose was ‘We will demonstrate and preserve virginity’ and took care to accuse the Islamists of using the woman’s sexuality as a weapon against her.
You and I know that this criminal evil was also present during Abdul Nasser’s time and that of Sadat, Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi, and and it continues to this day.”
Feminist journalist Nidal Rafa concurs with this analysis. She has been following the Palestinian Film Festival since its inception, a big fan of Filmlab Palestine, and she hopes that the organisers will be able to arrange repeat screening throughout the year the numerous screenings during festival were for many and the schedule was too crowded and stressful to reach all cities in Palestine in time. Nidal found particularly jarring the orientalist fragrance emanating from the Iranian film, in which we were expected to admire images of women wearing miniskirts in Iran during the time of the Shah days or works that bring French colonialism as a model of Paradise for exemplary emulation by the oppressed Arabs.
“The very existence of the event every year reminds us how much we, as a people, must continue to talk, tell, create and connect through our creation to the world,” she said. “We long for culture, for connection, for pleasure. This insistence of ours to continue doing — to dress up, spruce up and go see a movie in the city, meet directors, artists, actors and write about what was — is a kind of resistance to death, resistance to occupation, and resistance in the most human tool of human beings: creation. To see a hall full of people who came from all over Palestine knowing full well that at any moment a military tank could run over and destroy the stage and ruin our event is the greatness of good cinema, and we deserve one like that.”