Palestinian cinema is emerging as a fast mover in the field of cinema creation and dramatics. It is better understood as individual filmmaking as there is an absence of institutional base, funding, and the most importantly, an absence of a censorship board. Nonetheless, from the support of some Palestinian communities who believe in the history of the state and creativity and talent of people, a film culture is being started and has been critically acclaimed across the world for the amazing creation and representation of the state’s history.
Currently, the Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque in Ramallah is the only venue in Palestine that is multipurpose and well equipped with the latest technologies used in filmmaking. It screens films in various Palestinian cities and refugee camps, moreover was also hit by the Israeli’s once that destroyed all its infrastructural set up. In addition to this, there are only one or two multiplexes that show Hollywood and Egyptian films..
Palestinian film making industry dates back to 1935 when it was initiated in the form of documentary making. The major funding support is done from the European and Israeli communities. Although an Arabic spoken nation, Palestine films are not restricted to Arabic only and produce films in English, French and Hebrew too. A brief history of the Palestinian film industry is explained as below:
- The Beginning, 1935 – 1948:The first Palestinian film was made as a documentary on King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia´s visit to Palestine in 1935, created by Ibrahim Hassan Sirhan. This led to the inception of a culturally rich and social responsible film industry with various subsequent films and documentaries directed towards social issue such as promoting orphans cause. Sirhan then produced various documentaries based on personalities and also founded a production studio known as ‘Arab Film Company’.
- Second Period, 1948 – 1967: (El-Asmar, Fouzi, 1978) This was the time when Naqba made a huge impact on the Palestinian society. The film industry as a whole got affected, and various cinematic projects suffered due to lack of infrastructure, crew, and finance. These were times when Palestinian talent individually worked its way through other countries film industry for example Sirhan made a Jordanian film, “The Struggle in Jarash.”
- Third Period, 1968 – 1982:The Palestinian film industry was created during this time, which was funded by Fatah, and Palestinian organizations like PFLP and DFLP. A trend of documentary creation was seen with around 60 documentaries made during the period. During this period only, the first ever Palestinian film festival was hosted in Baghdad in 1973 and subsequently in 1976 and 1980. Palestinian Cinema Association was also formed in 1973 in Beirut.
- Fourth Period, 1982 – Present:Around this time, Palestinian film industry started to receive the international recognition especially in the United States and Europe. Some of the films that were internationally acclaimed were “Chronicle of a Disappearance”, which won New Director's Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival and a Luigi De Laurentiis Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Issue of Palestinian Christians
One of the major issues in Palestine, which is given due importance and attention by the filmmakers, is the issue of Palestinian Christians who always opposed the life under occupation in Palestine. These Christians were the refugees who fled from Palestine around the 1950’s, also included many Muslims, to the adjoining states of Jordon, Israel, losing everything they had such as homes, orchards etc. The refugees settling in Israel were remaining stayed by the Israel government through defying the international consensus of the UNO for the refugees to return. This was done in order to maintain the maximum Jewish population in Israel.
But, at the same time, Israel state was worried about the presence of a whole Palestinian state within its border due the huge Palestinian population lead to the harsh attitude of the Israel government and thus the tweaked policies regarding occupation (Dumper, Michael, 1994). Various questions were raised regarding the credibility of the Israel state for showing a hypocrite attitude of not allowing Palestinian refugees to go back to work with peace within the Israel boundaries. This issue was well captured in the movie “60 Minutes” who attempted to imitate Bob Simon who was a Palestinian Christian that faced the exact situation when he with his family moved to Jordon in 1952. Arab Christians in the Middle East faced a similar problem during the Lebanese Civil war and also effects on Iraq after the invasion by the United States. The economic and political stability collapsed due to the Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.
Thus, the example above clearly shows that the film that was made regarding the issue was backed by a clear evidence of a person who was a self witness to the issue and thus the fictitious character of the film was kept to the minimum level to represent authenticity.
Film Making as a Tool
The Palestinian Film Forum was founded in order to develop and support the film making industry in Palestine. Various initiatives included breaking the cultural siegeon Gaza, which was a film festival. Various non-governmental organizations were formed that were also supported by the Film Forum to promote film making on various issues. One of very famous non-governmental organization was Shashat, which was formed in Ramallah and focused on women’s cinema and the social and cultural implications towards women and their representation. It also included various sub-events under its main banner such as Cinema for Everyone, which was an annual women’s film festival and a discussion program. These platforms were used to educate and aware people in rural areas by visiting schools, universities, community centers etc (Aruri, Naseer, 2001). The main idea was to send and take the message to the mass audience especially those who do not have access to such media i.e. the lower class of population. Other organizations such as Majd Production Companywere also founded in 2000 by an independent film maker, which portrayed women’s political and social problems.
On the same lines, women’s affair center in Gaza conducted a film festival with the theme Gaza in the Eyes of Women that featured various short films and documentaries depicting the experience of women during the Israeli attack and also the blockade in 2009. The viral spread of these movies and documentaries was also done through various Internet sources such as Youtube, and other social platforms. One such organization that used these platforms to the optimal use was The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) that documented many videos representing the non-violent struggle against the occupation by the Palestinian refugees using Facebook, Myspace, Twitter etc. Thus, film and documentary making was used as a tool in order to present, make people aware and help them during the struggle of Palestine in the area of liberation and human rights.
In addition to the above mentioned field of documentaries and films, there are a number of projects running to promote film making that presents a life of ordinary Palestinian and refugee camps, including young activists. Internet is used as the prime medium in order to bring such kinds of films about the life of the refugees, their struggle in front of the entire world. For example, the Palestine Remembered website is a plethora of hundreds of videos that stretch through a variety of topics related to Palestine culture including some videos and films of the eye witnesses from the refugees of 1948 Nabka incident. The actual suffering of the people during the looting of the Palestinian towns was depicted in those videos, and the main idea was to bring this in front of the world (Sternhell, Zeev, 1998). The videos were in the form of face to face interactions and also oral interviews regarding the event. There were around 2000 videos of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, which included peasants, camp and rural residents.
There was another production company that focused over a different segment of the Palestinian culture. Sitting Crow Productionsexplore the artistic talent of Palestine society in the field of art, music, dance etc., who are in a way of inspiration for the masses as to how to balance and reincarnate as a different individual after facing so much struggle and thus creating a new and different identity.
As a whole, the film making community of Palestine is supported by the Palestine film foundation that also organizes aLondon Palestine Film Festival, which promotes the Palestinian cinema and helps in developing an audience base worldwide in order to encourage and develop the community. In addition, the improvisation it shows to all the above mentioned examples, are today acting as pillars for the Palestine cinema and in a way a face of Palestine in front of the world.
Contribution of Women Filmmakers
Palestinian cinema in a way began to catch the attention of the masses and scholars only after the historic events such as 11 September 2001, due to the propagation of various false beliefs regarding the Palestinian population. Thus, importance was given to the Arab cinema work in the Europe, Middle East and United States and not the Palestinian work that were intrinsically significant. Those significant contributions always included a woman as a substantial part (Jansen, 152). This notion of scholars and the academicians in the West lead to various misconceptions and assumptions regarding to the Palestinian work, one of which was the inability of the woman to produce films of intellectual ability and aesthetic quality. The presumptions trace its way back to various harsh statements given by famous personalities regarding to Palestinian people. One of the most famous was from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s “Palestinians never existed in historic Palestine prior to the declaration in 1948 of the Jewish state of Israel.” These derogatory statements adding up to the already concluded perception lead to a prejudicial attitude especially towards Muslim Palestinians of being non-intellectual and lacking the capability to produce quality films.
Moreover, the condition that people of Palestine lived in, including the psychological pressure of being a third world and also constant pressure from the Israel and other Middle eastern countries on the issue of refugees etc., the instability of the people’s life in the Palestinian state, all were not supportive for an improvising and unconventional attitude shown by a woman. Even men were also regarded with honor if they fostered the growth of any film company or community. Thus, the perception of women’s social place and role in Palestine’s history, society and politics were assumed to be restricted (Shohat, “The Cinema” pp.71-72). Furthermore, in total contrast, woman’s power was well witnessed in the Palestine cinema in the last decade with many films that were recognized and acclaimed worldwide. Some of the major works included:
- Sherine Salama’s “Wedding in Ramallah” (2002)
- Annemarie Jacir’s “Like Twenty Impossibles” (2003) and “Salt of This Sea” (2009)
- Cherien Daebis’ “Atamanah” (2006)
“Wedding in Ramallah” (2002) was Sherine Salama’s amazing attempt and success in describing the hardships faced by two Palestinian married couples who were separated due to Israeli occupation policies during Al-Aqsa Intifada. It describes how a man comes from his exilic home in United States to Palestine, furthermore works in telephone repair and marries a local girl. The guy goes back to U.S and the girl was left in Palestine regarding immigration and other security issues. The film received huge praise from the critics and changed the way the world looked at the Palestinian cinema and especially the work of a woman filmmaker in Palestine.
Thus, it is clear that the Palestine film making community has paved its way towards prosperity and respect by facing various hardships and struggling situations. The basic reason behind their overwhelming show is the dedication towards their Palestinian community socially and culturally. Every filmmaker carries with himself the struggle of each Palestinian and is thus able to portray the purity of the condition, struggle and thus the life of a Palestinian. The sole idea behind the work of every filmmaker is to bring the Palestinian culture, societal practices in front of the whole world so as to change the perception of the world regarding this state with such a dedicated community.