Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Womenís film festival showcases Palestinian optimism


By PM collaborators - November 19, 2016
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Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [culture] [Palestinian Films] [women‘s rights]

Mahmoud Darwish, Edward Said, Ghassan Kanafani. In Palestine, the most respected cultural figures are men. The Shashat Festival is trying to change this. The festival, now in its tenth year, aims to highlight the huge contribution female filmmakers make to Palestinian life.

Running until December 11, the festival is the longest running women’s film festival in the Arab world. Ninety screenings will take place in seventeen cities around the West Bank and Gaza. Two refugee camps are also hosting events.

Four films were shown on the opening night, each casting light on female Palestinians in different ways. If this sounds a bit overwhelming, Shashat gave some structure to proceedings by organising the films under a single title: “What Is Tomorrow?”
This imprecise mandate means that, in practice, the filmmakers could let their imaginations run wild – just as long as they related their stories back to 'tomorrow.’ The result is a breathlessly varied selection.
 
Perhaps the most striking film was “A Very Hot Summer” by Areej Abu Eid. In her distinctively nasal Gazan accent, Abu Eid describes her harrowing experiences waiting for dawn under Israeli bombs in the 2014 war.
 
Abu Eid’s intense voiceovers provide the film with some context amongst the chaos: “we sleep a little here and there when the bombing stops…it is unbearably hot, as if hell opened its doors.” Speaking after the screening, Abu Eid also emphasised the personal nature of her work: “the film shows the hardships Gazans face every. I lived through this.”
 
No less moving – but completely different in style – was “Salha” by Lana Hijaza and Yousef Atwa. The protagonist, an intelligent young girl called Hantoush, describes her daily struggles growing up in a Bedouin camp at Wadi Abu Hindi. With gentle humour, Hantoush imagines escaping Israeli settlers by jumping on her magical sheep and flying away (the sheep has wings) to a better tomorrow.
 
“Graffiti”, meanwhile, follows the tragic fate of Raid and Danya, two young lovers who were both killed by Israeli soldiers in Hebron. The audience see their heart-breaking story unfold through graffiti scrawled on a wall the day after they both died.
 
Like Abu Eid, Fida Nisa, the director of “Graffiti”, also emphasised the personal nature of her story. After all, she grew up dodging the rocks of Israeli settlers in the town. “A soldier could put his finger on the trigger and shoot, and I will end up like them,” she explained.
 
All these films are distinct in terms of style and content, but, festival organiser Nia Tamooz finds they all “express the varied personal identities of the Palestinian people through the eyes of women” in an intensely personal way.
 
So clearly, the all-female nature of these productions was not just an afterthought. As Ehab Bessaiso, the Palestinian culture minister noted: “the most important aspect of this festival is giving opportunities for films conceived, filmed, edited and released by women to be shown in Palestine.”
 
The audience also seemed to appreciate this facet of the festival. Mustafa Zaghlol, a student from Ramallah, said it was “striking to see the cinema industry in Palestine producing such quality products.
 
“It is especially refreshing to watch something orchestrated by Palestinian women,” he added.
 
And if the organisers succeeded in promoting female cinema, they also emphasised the broader ideals behind the festival. For the festival’s chairwoman, Ghada Tirawi, the festival was a chance to “promote unity in Palestinian society through filmmaking regardless of political or geographical constraints.”
 
Tamooz agreed with these principles. For her, Shashat is a way of “showing and highlighting identity and human rights issues in Palestine.”
 
Minister Bessaiso also highlighted the political aspect of the festival. Repression of Palestinian civil society, for example a concerned campaign against BDS, has become a favoured Israeli tactic over recent months.
 
Minister Bessaiso explains the principle of “continuing Palestinian culture in the face of the Israeli occupation” is incredibly important, especially as the films shown were made all over the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The geographical spread of the films “shows that Palestine continues, even as Israel cuts of Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem from each other.”
 
 “What Is Tomorrow?” could also be seen as a slogan for the Palestinian people generally. “What is tomorrow?” Minister Bessaiso asked. “Tomorrow is us. Tomorrow is Palestine. Tomorrow is what we want it to be.”
 
With the Shashat Festival, then, Palestinian women have the opportunity to mould that tomorrow as they see fit, while also casting a sensitive eye at the problems of today.

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