Third Cinema revisited

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for the ‘Palestinian films’ Category

The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Netherlands, Palestine, Germany, Mexico 2018

Posted by keith1942 on December 1, 2018

This new release was screened in the Leeds International Film Festival and was also the first title in the 2018 Leeds Palestine Film Festival which runs on until December 11th. The film was a fine production to grace the Official Selection programme in the Leeds Festival and a strong opening film story for the Palestinian Festival. The Festival catalogue describes the film as

“Both a nail-biting thriller and a heart-breaking love story.”

This is a film that combines genres, an ‘infidelity’ film, a thriller and, at times, I felt it had tropes found in spy films. The main story concerns an adulterous affair between an Israeli woman, Sarah (Sivan Kerchner) and a Palestinian man, Saleem (Adeeb Safadi). This is treated as tragedy, rather like the film versions of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’. The thriller element is far from that of Fatal Attraction (1987) and there is no satire, unlike The Graduate (1967).

Whilst the film concentrates on the personal relationships, the situation, the occupation of Palestinian lands, structures the whole narrative. But the conflict between two peoples is amplified here by differences of class. Sarah is married to a high-ranking Israeli Officer, David (Ishai Golan) in the Israeli army security service. She is attempting to run her own business, a café, but this attempt has been made intermittent by David’s work leading to moves. She has a young child. Saleem works as a delivery driver for a Israeli bakery and is married to Bisan (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who is pregnant. Sarah and David live in West Jerusalem, Salem and Bisan live in East Jerusalem.

In addition to his work as a delivery driver Saleem is persuaded by his brother-in-law, [not a sympathetic character] to use the van for an unofficial delivery service in the West Bank after work: This includes Bethlehem and beyond the ‘apartheid wall’ constructed by Israel.

There are nuances here resulting from the occupation. Israeli licence plates are clearly distinguishable from those issued by the Palestinian Authority. It appears that Arab citizens of Israel, including Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, have the same type of plates as other Israeli citizens. The van Saleem drives has Israeli plates and at checkpoint he passes with ease whilst queues of cars with Palestinian plates are visible in the background. There are further nuances as the film features both the Israeli police and Israeli Security Service and the Palestinian Police and the Palestinian Security Service.

These all enter the narrative at various points after Saleem takes Sarah with him on a delivery to Bethlehem; their usual assignation take place in a car park. An argument in a café and the obvious presence of an Israeli vehicle in a Palestinian area lead to investigations. The Reports of the title are compiled by the Palestinian Security but later fall into the hands of the Israeli Security. As one investigation follows another the complexities of the situation emerge for the audience. And the feelings and values of both Sarah and Saleem are tested as are those of their partners, David and Bisan. We also see the different responses of both Israelis and Palestinians as the affair becomes known.

The film has been written and directed by two Palestinian brothers, Rami Musa and Muayad Alayan. They also produced the film through their company Key Films, with co-producers from Germany and Mexico. They have previously produced several short films and one other feature, Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Al-hob wa al-sariqa wa mashakel ukhra 2015). I have not seen this film which does not appear to have had a British release. It does though suggest generic affinities with The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, the plot involves a Palestinian who mistakenly steals an Israeli car.

The Alayan brothers also worked on the cinematography and art design for this earlier films. Here they have assembled a skill production crew. Sebastian Bock provides the cinematography which does fine work with both interiors and exteriors. He also uses a hand-held camera for certain dramatic sequences, [presumably a steadicam with a loose setting]. The interiors range though daytime and night-time lighting, with chiaroscuro in places. This also applies to the exteriors, which include narrow streets, car parks, the ‘separation wall’ and at judicious intervals long shots of both sectors of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and briefly the empty desert landscape of the South. Whilst these settings focus on the development in the plot they also are reminders of the conflict setting which is so important to the narrative. And the editing by Sameer Qumsiyeh keeps up a a narrative pace that maintains both the drama and the developing mystery of the story.

The film works well as a drama and is absorbing and at times generates real tension. There are relatively explicit sex scenes, unusual for a Palestinian film. Added to this is the representation of key aspects of the lives of Palatinates under Israeli occupation. As is regularly noted in the media East Jerusalem is at the conflicted edge of the struggle for Palestinian independence. The Israeli control and harassment of those Palestinian living in East Jerusalem is hedged round with restrictions and constantly threatens their homes and their culture. This emerges with increasing power as the film’s narrative develops.

The title demonstrates that the Palestinians, despite lacking a proper state, have been able to develop a proper national cinema. Even the Hollywood Academy seems to have recognised that. What we are seeing now are genre films but which still address the actual political situation under occupation.

The film was shot digitally and is in 2.35:1 and colour. The dialogue is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with the first two languages translated in English sub-titles. The Festival screening was the British premiere and to date there is not a British release listed for the film which neither has a BBFC certificate. The DCP for the screening was provided by Heretic Outreach, based in Athens,

“Heretic Outreach is a boutique world sales agency that supports and encourages outstanding films and film-makers to reach out to the world, by becoming a key partner for solid strategies in festivals, sales and alternative distribution models.”

This is a new agency but their aim is to be applauded. One has only to look at the programme of major Film Festivals, for example the Berlinale, to realise that there is a large and apparently really worthwhile stream of films that are difficult or impossible to see in a theatrical formats in Britain. Still one would expect this film to feature in other Palestinian film events round Britain, of which there are now a number. Hopefully it also be picked up by a distributor for a more general release.

Advertisements

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2018

Posted by keith1942 on November 11, 2018

This year’s Festival runs from November 8th until December 13th. It opens, [as in previous years] with a screening in the Leeds of International Film Festival with the British premiere of Reports on Sarah and Saleem (Palestine 20918). The film deals with an affair between two married people, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman. Affairs between Palestinians and Israeli’s have been a staple of the cinemas of both Palestine and Israel but adding marriage to the complications is rarer. The film is the work of director Muayad Alayan and writer Rami Musa Alayan. They have worked together on both a feature and short films together, but I have not seen any of these. The film is screens three times during the Festival.

Otley Film Society are giving a fresh screening to Firefighters Under Occupation [2016), a documentary screened at earlier festival which received a warm response. The screening is on November 125th,

The Hyde Park Picture House, a regular venue for the Festival screens Wajib (Palestine 2017) on November 20th. This is a new film written and directed by Annemarie Jacir. She has written and directed a number of films; the earlier When I saw You / Lamma shoftak (Palestine | Jordan | Greece | United Arab Emirates 2014) was set in 1967 amongst Palestinian refugees in Jordan. This was a splendid drama that I saw at a screening organised by Reel Solutions in Bradford. This film is a road movie as preparations are under way for a wedding, an of the important traditional events in Palestinian culture. The films has already won awards including ‘Best Picture’ by Arab critics in 2018.

Two departments at the University of Leeds join together to screen 1948: Creation and Catastrophe (USA 2017) on November 22nd. This is a documentary that presents recollections of 1948 from both Palestinians and Israelis. This is not just history but a commentary on the present conflict and its roots.

On November 24th at The Carriageworks there is another documentary, Roadmap to Apartheid (USA 2012). The film-makers are an Israeli and a South African. They examine to what degree the frequently made comparisons between the Apartheid regime and Israel is accurate or useful as an analysis.

The Seven Artspace offers Stitching Palestine (Canada, Lebanon, Palestine 2017) on November 26th. Twelve Palestinian women, from varied walks of life, share their life stories. The connecting thread between these stories is their practice of the ancient art of embroidery.

On Sunday December 3nd in the Pyramid Theatre, in the union Building on the Leeds University Campus, there is Killing Gaza (USA, Palestine 2018). Two US journalists documented the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza in 2014. The film includes direct testimony and evidence from the people who survive the brutal assault. Apparently the film also include examples of the meretricious statements by Benjamin Netanyahu. The film has English dialogue and commentary and runs 97 minutes.

The Carriageworks is the venue again for Naila and the Uprising (USA, Palestine 2017) on December 8th. Set in the 1987 Intifada the film focuses on Naila, a young women who becomes involved in a clandestine network of women struggling for Palestinian self-determination. The film is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with English sub-titles. It is in both black and white and colour and runs for 76 minutes. Palestinian artist and activist Shahd Abusalama with lead a Q&A after the screening.

Around the Wall follows a visit by British women footballers to Palestine where they meet Palestinian women footballers. The film screens on December 4th at the Wharf Chambers. This 30 minute film is followed by a Q&A with the film-makers.

And the session will also screen Shireen Al-Walaja (Australia, Palestine 2015). A 28 minute film about activist in the village of the title fighting against demolitions.

Finally the HEART Centre in Headingly hosts a screening of Disturbing the Peace (Israel, Palestine, USA 2016) on December 11th. In a movement that stand out in the conflict Israeli soldiers and Palestinian Fighters work together to challenge the status quo. Their movement becomes Combatants for Peace. This English language film runs for 78 minutes in colour.

The Festival offers a varied programme with a number of new films. There is a special focus on films by and/or featuring women and their role in the struggle. The Palestinian Cinema has now established itself as an expression of the National Liberation Struggle. It has also achieved proper international status: even the Hollywood Academy now accepts these titles in the Foreign Language category. After a strong programme in this years International Film Festival Leeds punters can both enjoy and be informed by these films.

Posted in Film Festival, Palestinian films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The “Anti-Semitic” abuse.

Posted by keith1942 on June 7, 2018

An earlier post detailed the responses to an article of mine criticising the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir. Now I have had a second brush with a Zionist/fellow-traveller over an article defending the British film-maker Ken Loach from the slurs of “anti-Semitism’” and “holocaust’ denier”. This appears to be part of the shenanigans around the Labour Party and the campaign by Zionists and fellow-travellers to strike two birds with one stone – attacking Jeremy Corbyn and sabotaging support for the Palestinian Struggle in the party. Like parallel campaigns this is abuse of language, dishonest and reactionary. One critic makes an important point,

“Partisans of Israel often make false accusations of anti-Semitism to silence Israel’s critics. The ‘antisemite!’ libel is harmful not only because it censors debate about Israel’s racism and human rights abuses but because it trivializes the ugly history of Jew-hatred.” (Handleman, Scott, “Trivializing Jew-Hatred,” in The Politics of Anti-Semitism, ed. Alexander Cockburn, 2003)

To which should be added that the Palestinians are Semitic too in the original meaning of the term, [see Edward Said’s seminal study on ‘Orientalism’, 1978). It seems to me that, like many other terms tossed about in varied discourses, “Anti-Semitism” needs to presented in inverted commas [as is done with “race”] to protect our use of language.

Ken Loach: honoured and pilloried

This post should celebrate Ken Loach receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. I am not really sure what purpose Honorary Doctorates serve but I do admire Ken Loach’s film output and I am happy to see it celebrated. But this event has become clouded because of charges of anti-Semitism against the film-maker. Of course he is in good company: a host of committed supporters of the Palestinian National Liberation Struggle have been subjected to this type of smear. It appears that some media, including The Guardian newspaper, The Tablet weekly and the BBC, are happy to offer space to a dubious campaign protecting Israel from criticism. The Guardian has printed a number of articles about the problem of so-called “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party and the BBC regularly reports on the issue. Yet I have yet to see or hear a report in the paper or on the radio about the Al Jazeera series that exposed collusion between staff at the Israeli Embassy and the Labour Friends of Israel, The Lobby.

It seems that Ken wrote a riposte to one of his accusers, Jonathan Freedland, but that The Guardian declined to print it. The Jewish Voice for Labour has kindly done a service by publishing it online.

It is ironic that the problem is usually that the right-wing film critics attack Ken’s films. Those on The Wind that Shakes the Barley were prime examples. Now we have critics, supposedly liberal or left, attacking him, though in similar fashion they are low on specifics. We had an example of the failure of Zionist supporters to argue about the actual words, images and meanings when I posted on Waltz with Bashir. There was a series of critical comment on my article but we never heard anything from the writer on the actual film.

There is a long tradition of vilifying artists and writers who support resistance to oppression. We still await a film version of Trevor Griffith’s study of one great advocate, Tom Paine. Nearer our own times Jean-Luc Godard was among a number of French artists pilloried for criticising the French settler occupation in Algiers, Le petit Soldat (1963). Daniel Ellsberg was labelled The most dangerous man in America  by Henry Kissinger for exposing the lies and deceit around US aggression. The misuse of “anti-American” for the criticism of US foreign policy parallels the misuse of “anti-Semitism”. Such critics would be better occupied critically viewing video film of Palestinian unarmed civilians shot in the back outside the borders of Israel.

Comments:

April 29, 2018 – 8:46

Ruth Baumberg

What an intemperate rant! Anti-Semitic – conspiracy theories, holocaust equivocation, etc. Wake up and look at some genuine history This is not about Israel; it is about anti-Semitism ensconced in the British Left. I despair about politics in the UK – anti-Semitism on the left, racism against black immigrants on the right.

Reply

keith1942

This comment seems typical of Zionists or their fellow-travellers. M/s Baumberg should check the meaning of ‘rant’ before misusing it. Some of the synonyms give a sense of the word:

“diatribe, harangue, tirade, …..’

She makes no mention of Ken Loach himself, nor of the debates around the Labour Party. Nor is there any reference to the excellent Al Jazeera ‘Investigation’, which I assume she has not watched. This would provide her with some relevant information. As would the excellent series on ‘Al Nakba’ or the footage screened in the channel’s ‘news hour’ showing the Israeli Defence Force shooting unarmed civilians.

I wonder if she has watched any of the fine Palestinian films on the occupation of their homeland.

There is Elia Suleiman’s excellent historical study The Time That Remains ; the film record of Palestinian resistance, Five Broken Cameras ; and a drama depicting the brutal treatment of Palestinian women imprisoned by the Israeli’s for resistance, 3000 Nights / 300 Layal / 3000 Layla.

Fortunately supporters of the Palestinian struggle [among other activities] organise screenings of these films. We are promised another Leeds Palestinian Film Festival late in 2018. An opportunity to be properly informed on this anti-colonial struggle for which Britain bears the primary responsibility.

Further comment:

May 18, 2018 – 3:30

Ruth Baumberg

Well! Zionist as a term of abuse! – I wasn’t talking about Israel and I did indeed make reference to the Labour party, though it sounds as if you are well to the left with your neo-marxist colonialist analysis. There are plenty of other films giving a different view, in particular, have you seen “In Between” – an excellent Palestinian directed film from 2017 made in Israel about 3 flatmates in Tel Aviv.

Ken Loach, though I like most of his films – Daniel Blake in particular – has indeed got a reputation as an antisemite as does that embarrassment to the Labour party Ken Livingstone. And antisemitism does exist in the Labour left without reference to Israel/Palestine and has done for many years. Just ask any of the Jewish Labour women MPs – Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, etc

I wouldn’t use Al-Jazeera as an independent voice as it is a partisan view. You might like to listen to Simon Schama this morning on Radio 4 on Israel at 70 for a balanced view.

Reply

May 19, 2018 – 1:39

Roy Stafford

In Between was reviewed on this blog which has discussed several significant Israeli films. The main contributors to the blog have long experience of anti-racist work as teachers. We are interested in exploring all forms of resistance to colonialist actions which include the actions of the Israeli state in its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. In that we are supported by many Jewish Israeli citizens. Smearing campaigners against the colonial actions of the Israeli state, like the film-maker Ken Loach, is completely unacceptable.

This is not a blog to discuss the inner workings of the Labour Party in the UK.

As a film and media educationist I don’t see a major difference between the BBC, the Guardian and Al Jazeera. All are partisan commentators, just as we are.

This discussion is now closed.

IN BETWEEN, (aka BAR BAHAR, aka BAR BAHR, aka LO PO, LO SHAM), poster, from left: Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura, Mouna Hawa, 2016. © Film Movement /Courtesy Everett Collection
Reporters / Everett

The Editor’s final comment is valuable, though I would want to add to it. I should note personally that I am more upset at being labelled a ‘neo-marxist’ than being accused of an “anti-Semitic rant”. I regard myself as a Marxist in the classical tradition. Marx and Engels came to recognise that colonial occupations were a barrier to freedom for both the occupier and the occupied., especially in their writings on India and Ireland.

At least M/s Baumberg goes one better than her predecessor, she actually references one film. But her choice is worth noting. I added a critical comment to the review of the film on ‘The Case for Global Film’. In Between is more obviously critical of Islamic masculinity than Israeli racism, though the latter does figure in a minor way. I put this down to the film being partially funded by Israeli institutions. It would seem that is is less upsetting for a Zionist or fellow-traveller than the more explicit Palestinian films that I mention. And the other film references, I, Daniel Blake, is actually one of Ken Loach’s less political films: a point made in my review of that film.

This is part of a wider critical discourse which dislikes overt political and didactic films. In British criticism ‘didactic’ is nearly always a negative term. Serious political representation, not just in Palestinian films but in the Ken Loach films I referenced, are seen as problematic.

Two of the Labour MPs mentioned belong to he Labour Friends of Israel, the subject of the Al Jazeera exposure. And Simon Schama is on record as arguing that ‘anti-Zionism’ has equivalence with “anti-Semitism’. He also attacked John Berger’s support for the Palestinians and, in a familiar trope, drew a a false parallel between attacks on Jews under the Third Reich and attacks on Israel.

I also notice that Ken Livingstone’s name is added to the diatribe. Livingstone’s comment on Hitler and Zionism was an exaggeration but was a reference to an actual agreement testified in the historical records. But what is more relevant is that whilst he has been disciplined for expressing an opinion which should be protected by the ‘right’ to free speech the actions by a number of Labour MPs documented in Al Jazeera’s The Lobby have been completely ignored.

Defenders of reaction frequently seize on one item or individual to buttress their arguments, regardless of how relevant. I had an example with the film journal ‘Cine action’. I wrote a letter criticising the film Kippur (Amos Gitai, 2000) and raising the issue of Zionist theme in Hollywood films; [we have just had another version of ‘Entebbe’ from the USA, the fourth]. The editor’s response was to attack me and include a reference to ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion! I had never read the document but it is available on the Internet so I checked it out. As you might expect from a document apparently produced in 1903 there is no mention of Hollywood, nor indeed of cinema at all. Clearly the function of the reference was not to inform the argument but as, what in colloquial English is called, an ‘Aunt Sally’.

Like my colleagues on ‘The case for Global Cinema’ I aim to research titles and to buttress critical comments with references to the actual film or article. Ken loach and his colleagues take an equally rigorous approach to writing the screenplays for the films that they make. What is noticeable about the Zionist critics is that they are low on this type of critical approach and rather prefer to make generalised comments along with outrageous claims proclaimed with shrill emotion. Fortunately, as a long-standing English children’s chant goes,

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’!

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Three features by Elia Suleiman

Posted by keith1942 on January 5, 2018

He is an important Palestinian filmmaker. Born in 1960 in Nazareth he has a Christian background [Greek Orthodox] which feeds into his films, though centrally they reflect both his identity as a Palestinian under occupation and, for much of his life, also an exile. He commenced filmmaking whilst living in New York with two critical documentaries. In 1994 he returned to Palestine to teach at the Birzeit University, close to Ramallah. His main task was to develop a Film and Media Department with funding provided by the European Community. Here he wrote and directed several films including two features. In 2008 he took up a University post in Switzerland. Since then he has made another feature set in the occupied territories.

Suleiman appears to have taught himself about filming, starting with video pieces   . His work in the USA provided him with a grasp of the medium which at that time was not available in Palestine. His early films, whilst they followed on from the arrival of the Palestinian Authorities administration of the occupied West Bank, were made before there was any infrastructure for Palestinian filmmaking. And his films have all, to a greater or less er extent, relied on overseas funding.

Since 2000 an infrastructure for various arts, including film, has developed in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. It is now possible to write of an indigenous Palestinian cinema. There have been a series of films by Palestinian filmmakers produced within the partial Palestinian territories and circulated in other territories as ‘Palestinian Films’. Two titles, Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013) has even been allowed to be submitted in the category of ‘foreign-language film’ at the Hollywood Academy. Titles have won awards at major Film Festivals, including Cannes.

There are a range of films addressing the issue of Palestine, both features and documentaries, and produced both by Palestinians and by filmmakers from elsewhere. Recently quite a few of the titles have followed the conventions of international fiction features or documentaries. A few films have adhered more closely to the conventions of art cinema or modernist documentary. Suleiman’s work definitely falls into this area and feels quite distinct from many of the other Palestinian titles. His films are extremely ironic; he aims at a dispassionate tone with the occasional almost burlesque scenes. Some writers have drawn comparisons with the film work of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. He does tend to a ‘deadpan’ tone, but is really closer to a surrealist mode. It should be noted that surrealist art in Arab culture retains the political dimension of the original movement; not always the case with western examples.

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996) was supported and funded by companies in Palestine, Israel, USA, Germany, France, and including the European Union Media Funds. The film was in colour and standard widescreen, with the soundtrack in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English. The film appeared at the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the ‘Best First Film Prize’. It received fairly wide distribution in Europe and was released in the USA; but not seemingly in Britain.

The film has three segments: ‘Nazareth Personal Diary’, an intervening scene where Suleiman introduces his film to an audience, and then ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’. The first part of the film presents Suleiman’s return [as E.S.] to his home town after his exile in New York.. The opening shot is unsettling, an out-of-focus close-up which gradually comes into focus as the upper torso of  a man sleeping; [we realise later that this is E.S.’ father]. Initially we see the family home and also meet his mother and other relatives and neighbours There is one scene where his mother and women friends argue about the proper method to use in preparing garlic. The film then moves out into exteriors round Nazareth, the recurring settings are a bar, ‘The Holy Land’; a gift shop full of religious replicas; and, less frequently, men fishing in a boat [uncertain which waters]. Quite often what is occurring is unclear and not explained. We see other Palestinians passing the bar where Elia sits with friends and we hear the voices on an Israeli radio station. There are other sites including a garage/paint-shop and there is a journey by road. One gets a sense of people and place but not completely clarified or pinned down. Ellipses between scenes are signalled by captions on a computer screen, most frequently, ‘the day after’.

Following a caption , ‘I Moved to Jerusalem’ we see E.S. preparing to talk to an audience about his film. Then we move into the final segment, ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’.

This section is more overtly political and includes the control of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation. In a key scene E.S. observes three policemen stopping by a wall in order to urinate. There is a radio call and as they dash away to deal with the event one of the policemen drops his walkie-talkie. E.S. surreptitiously picks this up and we now regularly hear the conversation so the police. E.S. also uses the walkie-talkie to plant fake call-outs to the police resulting in their empty and confusing responses.

We visit an empty house which E.S. is renovating as his accommodation but we also return to the setting from part 1, including the bar and the family home. In the empty house E.S. watches a video of a Palestinian troupe performing a song of sadness. We see a small group who are either preparing violent acts or a drama about these. The film ends with a long shot as E.S.’s father and mother fall asleep watching Israeli television followed by a dedication

“To My Mother and Father and My Homeland’.

The portrait presented by the film is idiosyncratic and fairly subjective. This is very much the dominant mode in which Suleiman works. And his character, E.S. treats most events with a dead-pan response. But the subjective stance is deceptive because as we follow this selection of experiences and impressions there is a strong representation of the experience of Palestinians a as a community and as suffering under occupation. There is an absence of any representation of either the formal Israeli institutions of occupation or of the formal institutions of the Palestinian community. But the absence seems to suggest that neither really offer support to Palestinians: and in the period following the ‘Oslo Accords’ this can be read as a very critical standpoint.

Divine Intervention / Yadon ilaheyya , France, Morocco, Germany, Palestine, 2002.

In colour and widescreen and in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The film had a wide international release including in Britain. It won several awards including the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. There was controversy overt the film and the Hollywood Academy Awards. according to some sources the film was barred from consideration in the Category of the Best Foreign Language Film because,

“Palestine is not a state we recognize in our rules”.

A spokesperson for the Academy denied that the film had ever been submitted for consideration. However, the claims would fit with the long-standing pro-Zionist stance of many Academy members.

The central character is again E.S. [played by Suleiman]. He is the central characters in a series of vignettes in what was now the ‘Occupied West Bank’. A frequent setting is an Israeli checkpoint where E.S., living in Nazareth;’, meets his girl friend {Manal Khader) who lives in Ramallah. Thus the Israeli occupation is more prominent in this film. The assignations provide opportunities for the observation of the Israelis. As in the earlier film events are frequent surreal and humorous. The best is when E.S. launches a red balloon carrying the portrait of Yasser Arafat. The balloon proceeds to ‘buzz’ the checkpoint to the consternation of the Israeli soldiers.

The finale of the film combines action with computer game techniques. A squad of Israeli military squad use a model Palestinian woman as a target. This turn into an actual female mujahidin and she proceeds to supernaturally neutralize the Israeli fire and then to eliminate the squad and a helicopter sent to their rescue.

The Time That Remains, Britain, Italy, Belgium, France, 2009.

The film is in colour, standard widescreen and uses Arabic, English and Hebrew.

This film takes a rather different approach from the two earlier features; it presents a series of historical episodes charting the occupation of Palestinian lands from Al Nakba in 1948. Suleiman does retains his biographical approach as the key characters are his father, mother and his younger selves.

The four episodes are 1948, 1970, 1980 and the present (2009)/ The film opens in the present. E.S. (Suleiman) returns to his homeland. He takes a taxi from the airport heading [presumably] for Nazareth. However, as storm threatens, the gloomy night closes in and suddenly we are in some never-land. The film’s title interrupts the sequence and we are in a flashback to 1948. This opens in the same café seen in the earlier features and a group of armed Palestinians are sitting and waiting. A place circles, the Zionist radio calls on Palestinians to surrender.

In a hillside house the Major of Nazareth surrenders to officers of the Hagannah. We see the Zionists military attacking civilians and looting houses. In a small workshop Fuad (Suleiman elder – Saleh Bakri) works at a lathe: it emerges that he is a skilled maker of weapons. A car carrying a family, including Fuad’s girlfriend, leaves. Fuad is taken into custody by Zionists and marched to an orchard where Palestinian fighters are tied and laid on the ground.

These dramatic scenes are intercut with more surreal, slightly humorous moments: a short Zionist soldier has to stand on a stone to fix a blindfold on Fuad, who is taller. The sequence ends when Fuad is thrown over a wall and the screen fades to black.

The following section is set in 1970. Fuad is now married and lives in a modern flat in Nazareth. Their young son Elia attends a Palestinian school which is under the domination of the Israeli state. We see a sequence were Israeli dignitaries visit the school and a choir of pupils sing the Israeli anthem surrounded by bunting of Israeli flags. However, the young Elia follows his father’s mould and we see him lectured by the head teacher for using the word ‘colonialist’. Later he is again lectured when he describes the USA as ‘imperialist’. In another scene the pupils watch a 16mm print of Spartacus. Presumably they are supposed to draw parallels between the slave army and Israel. However, in the intimate scene in which Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and Varinia (Jean Simmonds] declare their love , dishabille, in  a pool the female teacher tries to block the ‘suggestive ‘ sequence by standing in front of the projector.

There are scenes with the family and their neighbours. One of whom, clearly damaged by events, is constantly trying to set himself on fire. And there are fishing trips by Fuad and his friends. Here Suleiman’s laconic observation repeats a sequence where an Israeli military jeep keeps stopping to inspect the fisherman. At another point Fuad rescues an Israeli driver from a burning truck and we then see the paid side by side in the hospital. Fuad’s humanity here reminded me of a poetry by Mahmoud Darwish.

Late in the episode the tone moves from ironic to tragic and the announcements are made of the death of Gamel Abdel Nasser. The episode ends when Fuad is arrested and once more taken off to an Israeli jail.

The film moves forward to 1980. Fuad’s wife writes to her sister. Fuad has had a heart operation, she has diabetes. Elia is now a young man and we see him with his friends at the ‘Holy land’ café. We see Elia with his father on another fishing trip. Then a ‘friendly’ policeman calls. Elia has 24 hours to leave Israel or he will be arrested. That night there are demonstrations and Israeli Defence Force fire at Palestinians. There is a typical Suleiman sequence as we watch a tussle between medics and Israeli soldiers over a wounded man on a trolley; filmed in long shot and a long take. This is the point at which Elia commences his exile in New York.

The final section return sup to the present. Elia arrives at the family flat. it would appear that his father has died in his absence, though the film omits Elia’s return to the territory in 1996. Part of the section presents his relationship with his increasingly ill mother, a relationship that is mainly unspoken. We visit some of the familiar settings and the pattern of life appears little changed. There is long sequence in a hospital which mainly involves waiting. And Elia at another point watches a confrontation between Israeli troops an Palestinian protesters. The section and the film end with Elia in his room, framed against a widows of in the background Nazareth.

Elia Suleiman’s film offer a distinctive take on the Palestinian experience. They are unlike all of the other films that I have seen from this quarter. There are however connections to other examples of Arab cinema. At times one is reminded of Youssef Chahine and the films have parallels with some of the surreal approaches in Arab cinema.

His films tend to the long shot and the long take. This offers a sense of the observational but they are not documentaries. The narratives are elliptical; quite often the relationship between segments is unclear or only achieves clarity well after the commencement. The films emphasise repetition in settings, incidents and characters. There is the sense that the pattern of life frames people’s experience. At the same time that experience includes frequent events that are not in any sense normal. The contrast contributes to the surreal sense. And in the centre of this is the character of E.S., as deadpan as the more famous Keaton. And that tone is as subversive here as it was in the silent comedies.

Little in the film is overly political in the usual sense of the term. Yet both in its representations and in its comparisons and contrasts there emerges a powerful critique of the way that occupation limits and oppresses Palestinian ,life. It is interesting that the most recent film, which is closer to a history than a personal portrait, offers the most explicit representation of Israeli violence. Al Nakba has been a constant in Palestinian life and culture since 1948. But there is a sense in which the unfulfilled hopes from the 1990s have made that memory more potent for Palestinians. Whilst it is only implied, that sense is as critical of Palestinian leadership as it is of the settler occupier.

There are a number of interviews with Elia Suleiman online, including quite an extensive one at the Sarajevo Film Festival. He lists among his influence Ozu Yasujiro, Robert Bresson and Hou Hsiao-hsien; not really any surprises but interesting, He also mentions John Berger, an influence and a personal friend; and the parallels re clear here as well.

He talks about his preparation of the films. He starts with observations, often the tableaux’s which appear in the film. In shooting the films he admits to be obsessive about every frame and image and the placement of the camera. And he takes equal care over the foreground, middle ground and background. He remarks that the sound is frequently ‘outside the image’, i.e. off-screen; a technique that constantly reminds viewers of a more complex world being presented. This is interesting because the films tend to suggest that the filmmakers have captured events as they happen but it is most carefully produced. I suspect partly that this is because of the parallels and connections that Suleiman wants to develop across a film. One becomes aware that small detail is very important, like the recurring settings.

Suleiman uses both professional performers and non-professional. The non-professional tend to improvise. He recalled one shot from The Time That Remains, a discussion by his mother and her friends regarding the preparation of garlic for cooking, where he just set up a fixed camera and left the participants to their talk and argument.

Since The Time That Remains Suleiman contributed a segment to 7 Days in Havana (2012) a portmanteau film set in the Cuban capital. His own film work, relying on varied international funding, develops slowly. We wait to see if he will produce another film and what will be his next contribution to the Palestinian struggle.

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2017

Posted by keith1942 on November 7, 2017

The 2017 Festival launches during the Leeds International Film Festival with a new documentary Gaza Surf Club. The film has been directed by two young filmmakers with funding from German Public Broadcasting Company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln. In Gaza there is a small band of enthusiasts who ride the surf in the coastal waters. The added dangers of the sport here are the Israeli blockade and maritime restrictions. This would seem to be another film that takes an audience into the everyday lives of the oppressed Palestinians. It is in colour and with both English and Arabic.

The Occupation of the American Mind is a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation. The writers and directors Loretta Alper, and Jeremy Earp have provided an exploration of that central movement attempting to protect Israel from scrutiny and justice in the USA, headed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This committee in particular has successfully influenced and financed much of the US political elite. And their nefarious work is replicated to a smaller extent in Britain as well. Filmed in colour and all in English. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with former Reuters journalist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Naomi is a leading campaigner for ‘Free Speech on Israel’.

Firefighters Under Occupation is a distinctive documentary. Sponsored by the Fire Brigade Union it was filmed by a South Wales firefighter on a trip to the Occupied West Bank where indigenous firefighters operate the equipment donated by their comrades in Britain. The event also has a distinctive venue, the converted Gipton Fire Station now an East Leeds Community venue.

The Time That Remains is the most recent feature by Elia Suleiman released in 2009. Suleiman is a pioneer of Palestinian cinema, his first films in the 1990s were produced before the present expanded cycle of films made in the occupied territories emerged. This titles benefitted from financial support from a range of European film companies and institutions and the soundtrack includes Arabic, Hebrew and English. Dramatising his own life and that of his father Fuad Suleiman produces a complex narrative setting out both the Israeli domination of Palestinians and their resistance. The film relies to a great degree on irony and that particular type of surrealism found in Arabic cultures.

The Idol from the 2016 Festival at a new venue. This title dramatises the story of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who won the prestigious Television Contest ‘Arab idol’. The film had some fine sequences set in Gaza in his childhood and returns there at the end with actual footage of the celebrations on his success.

Also returning from 2016 is Balls, Barriers & Bulldozers, a documentary following a British tour of the West Bank playing against  Palestinian women football teams. The film is about the sport and about the experience of visiting the Occupied Territories.

‘Existence is Resistance’ is an evening with short films and an exhibition of photographs. The theme is ‘Sumud’, that is ‘steadfast’. The short films are Sumud: Everyday Resistance; Journey of a Sofa; and Shireen of al-Walaja the portrait of a popular resistance leader.

Finally we have ‘Film Maker as Activist – an afternoon of short films and discussion with Jon Pullman’. The Forgotten addresses the condition of the millions of Palestinian refugees who still wait for the liberation of their homeland. The filmmaker will also talk about his planned film, The Lynching, which will deal with the current ‘anti-semiotic’ witch-hunt in the British Labour Party.

The Festival offers a varied selection of films in both theatrical and community settings. Now well established the Festival brings a political edge to film viewing in West Yorkshire.

Check out the programme: http://www.leedspff.org.uk/

Posted in Film Festival, Palestinian films | Leave a Comment »

3000 Nights / 300 Layal / 3000 Layla, Palestine | France | Jordan | Lebanon | Qatar | United Arab Emirates 2015

Posted by keith1942 on March 9, 2017

This is a powerful addition to the growing body of Palestinian films. It seems that previously it has only been featured at the London Film Festival in 2015 and it has not been certificated by the BBFC. Now the Showroom in Sheffield, working with other exhibitors and some local Palestinian support groups, has made the film more widely available. I saw the film at the Hyde Park Picture House, supported by Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. The film is in colour and the dialogue is in both Arabic and Hebrew [and possibly some French] with English subtitles. The film is almost entirely shot within the confines of a prison. It was filmed in Jordan, unlike some of the recent titles produced in the occupied West Bank: the subject matter would have made that difficult.

The film opens in a van where blindfolded Palestinian prisoners are being taken to an Israeli jail. This is a suitably dark, noir sequence. An onscreen title informs us that it is 1980. Among the prisoner is Layal (English variant Layla – Maisa Abd Elhadi). She has been arrested on the charge of helping a Palestinian ‘terrorist’; The events are never fully explained but it seems that she gave a lift to a young man who is accused of shooting an Israeli. The Israelis never produce any evidence to support their charges.

Once in prison Layal is tortured, interrogated and denied access to friends and family. Then she is incarcerated in a large cell in a women’s prison with Israeli criminals; these include a drug addict and an obviously racist woman. Layal is immediately subjected to harassment by the other prisoners. The warder and the guards are not just unsympathetic but actively aid the persecution. Then Layal discovers she is pregnant. She is now moved to a cell with Palestinian women. However, the woman Governor tries to persuade Layal to have an abortion,. Her husband, when he is finally allowed to see her, adds his voice to this.

When Layal is bought before a military court there appears to be no convincing evidence against her. At one point the young Palestinian accused of the shooting is bought into court and Layal is pressurised to claim that he threatened her; she refuses. Her lawyer, a sympathetic Israeli, tries to get her release but she is declared guilty and given an eight year sentence.

The film follows her experiences of imprisonment. At first the other Palestinian women in the cell are suspicious of Layal, partly because she has been allowed family visits: a way used by the Israeli guards to pressurise prisoner into co-operation. On particular one prisoner, Sanaa (Nadira Omran), who is a freedom fighter locked up for fifteen years, suspects Layla of such co-operation. Despite these pressures, and those applied by the guards and her husband., Layal is delivered of her baby. This sequence shows her handcuffed and leg-cuffed to a bed for the delivery!

With the arrival of a son, Nour, her situation and the tone of the film brighten. The other Palestinian woman assist Layal in the care of her child. We watch this process as Nour passes his first two years. In 1982 the prisoners hear of the \Israeli invasion of Lebanon, followed by the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila camps. The women commence a hunger strike and also refuse to do the work for the Israeli guards. The Palestinian male prisoners, in a adjoining compound, follow suit. As the conflict escalates Layla is removed from the cell and locked up alone with Nour. A second Palestinian woman joins her and persuades her to drop the strike for the sake of Nour. When Layal realises that she is a collaborator she rejoins the strike. As punishment Nour is taken away; [we will realise later that he has been placed with Layal’s family’]. Despite this Layal continues to support the strike. There is a brutal sequence where the Israeli guards break up a protest and shoot a young Palestinian woman. Then they use tear gas on the prisoners and savage them in the cells. The woman continue to resist. Now comes news that the ‘resistance’ has kidnapped six Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. This leads to prisoner swap [six for over 4,000] and Sanaa is one of those released.

Layal has to continue to serve her full eight years. Finally she is released. The last shot shows her re-united with Nour outside the prison. On screen titles then inform the audience of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who have been incarcerated by the Israelis, including currently six thousand men, women and children.

This is the first full length drama involving the treatment of Palestinians seized and locked up by the Israeli state that I have seen. There are other films where prisoners are manipulated by Israeli’s but these were part of larger stories about resistance and the Israeli response. The fact that the film focuses on women adds to the emotional power of the film. The treatment they endure is draconian and racist: but this is the staple of the Zionist occupation. The film also shows Layal’s growing strength, determination and resistance. The pregnancy and Nour’s upbringing add lighter note but also impact on Layal’s response to her situation.

The film offers many tropes of the prison film genre. There have been several films in recent years that deal with woman and children in prison. Leonera (Argentina 2008) is a particular fine example. there are distinct parallels between that film and 3000 Nights. Whilst the protagonist in Leonera , Julia, is in prison for a criminal act, there is a similar growth in strength and independence and the final moment of freedom for mother and child.

3000 Nights also uses other tropes from prison films. there are several short sequences where Layal watches the birds that fly around the cages of the prison: a motif for freedom denied the prisoners. And later in the film there is a shot of Layal as she stands in the pouring rain but imbued with her sense of independence.

The film offers fairly adult viewing given the violence perpetrated on the women. At the same time it has strong sense of the politics of liberation. The events involving the ‘resistance’ [the PLO] are one aspect: but the resistance of the women to their situation is another. Even by the standards of prison films, say those sited in the USA or in a country like Brazil, the treatment of the Palestinian  women is disturbing. But this is par for the situation of people in a colonised situation. A parallel would be a film from Apartheid South Africa, say Mapantsula (1988), where racist treatment is also faced by a growing consciousness and resistance.

This is the first film I have seen by the writer and director Mai Masri. It is extremely well done. The development of the story and of Layal’s consciousness is well paced and convincing. The Palestinian characters are more than stereotypes as are the Israelis. The latter are predominantly negative but the script includes both a Liberal Israeli lawyer and an Israeli prisoner who has a change of attitude after an act of assistance. Layal’s husband leaves for Canada and there is a hint of romance with a male Palestinian prisoner/ medical orderly, which I found unnecessary. The film  is based to on the actual experiences of Palestinian women i imprisoned by the Israeli state, including those who had children in prison. This reality shines through in the film.

The quality of the production is really good. there is excellent cinematography and sound. And there is judiciously judged music. The supporting vast are convincing.

There are more screenings arranged in the UK and the internationally the film has been released in at least eighteen territories.

Posted in Palestinian films | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2016

Posted by keith1942 on October 26, 2016

lpff-card

After the series of films presented last year in Leeds the Festival returns with another set of screenings. The programme kicks off during the Leeds International Film Festival and continues until December 9th. As last year there are a number of different venues [see the Festival page]. Definitely catch as many as you can. If Leeds is not accessible the films are all available through distributors or the Internet.

Ambulance (Ambulance/Gaza, Norway, Palestine 2015) In Colour. In Arabic and English. Length 80 minutes.

While many young people dream of leaving Gaza, Mohamed Jabaly, 24, wants to help. When he hears the news of a new Israeli offensive on Gaza in July 2014 he decides he cannot merely “wait for death” but must do something. He joins an ambulance crew to document the war. This is a raw, first-person account of a country under siege. The film won a Sunbird Award at the recent ‘Days of Cinema’ Festival in Ramallah in the Occupied Territories.

The Great Book Robbery . In colour. In English. Length 48 minutes.

When Palestinians were expelled from their land in 1948, Israeli soldiers were accompanied by librarians as they entered Palestinian homes in many towns and villages. Their mission was to collect as many valuable books and manuscripts as possible. Using eyewitness accounts by both those who took part in seizing the books, and those whose books were taken, this film by Benny Brunner tries to understand why thousands of books still languish in the Israeli National Library vaults and why they have not been returned to their rightful owners.

The Promised Band (Israel/Palestine, Nepal, USA 2014). In English, Arabic, and Hebrew with English subtitles. Length 89 minutes.

This films follows the story of a fake rock band comprised of Israeli and Palestinian women who have decided that, despite their dubious musical talent, a music group is the best cover story to meet and interact with each other. Although their societies are kept apart by the Israeli separation wall, solid concrete 26-feet tall and 3-feet thick, the women connect on their sameness, and their lives become entangled in ways they couldn’t expect.

Epicly Palestine’d* (The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank, 2015). In colour.

This is the story of how a small group of teenagers created a skate scene from scratch in a place where you can’t even buy a skateboard, whilst facing the challenges of living under military occupation. One of the film makers, Phil Joa, will be there for a Question and Answers session after the film.

The Idol (Ya tayr el tayer, Netherlands , UK , Qatar , Argentina , Egypt , Palestine , United Arab Emirates 2015). In colour. In Arabic with English subtitles. Length 100 minutes.

Acclaimed Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s latest film is a moving, defiantly uplifting biopic of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who became a worldwide TV sensation in 2013.

Rough Stage (Karmil pinnal,  Estonia, 2015). In colour. In Arabic. Length 74 minutes.

An artist at heart, Maher, electrical engineer and former political prisoner wants to stage a contemporary dance performance in Ramallah. His family disapprove, money’s a problem and cultural problems intercede.

Balls, Barriers and Bulldozers .

This documentary film is about a women’s football tour to the West Bank, Palestine. It’s about football, and so much more. The tour aimed to build solidarity with the women footballers of Palestine and for the UK teams to learn about life under occupation.

To be followed by a discussion with a member of the Republica women’s team and her reflections on the tour.

Speed Sisters (Palestine, USA | Qatar, UK, Denmark, Canada 2015). In colour. In Arabic. Length 78 minutes.

This film follows the first all-woman race car driving team in the Middle East. Grabbing headlines and turning heads at improvised tracks across the West Bank, these five women have sped their way into the heart of the gritty, male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene.

Flying Paper (UK 2013). In colour with English subtitles. directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill.

An uplifting story of Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. A film co-produced with young filmmakers in Gaza.

Return to Seifa In colour. 10 Minutes.

Follows the progress of two siblings in the film, Flying Paper. Now young adults, they confront the aftermath of war, adapting to the harsh realities of yet another violent disruption to their hopes and aspirations.

Gaza from Within is a deeply moving story about the impact of war on communities, especially its youth. It includes powerful images taken by award-winning photographer Anne Paq, working closely with young Gazan journalist Abeer Ahmed.

Posted in Film Festival, Palestinian films | Leave a Comment »

The Idol / Ya Tayr El Tayer Palestine 2015

Posted by keith1942 on April 3, 2016

Arab_Idol-474133786-large

This film was screened at the Leeds Young Film Festival. It does not have a UK release and the only other screening in Britain was at the London International Film Festival. It really deserves wider exhibition, both because it is a very well-done biopic and because it deals with the major contradiction in the Middle East, Israeli aggression against Palestinians.

The central character is Mohammad Assaf, born and bought up in Gaza, in 2013 he was the winner of a major Arabic Television competition, ‘Arab Idol’. He has since become a popular singer across the Arab world and also have been made a UN ‘goodwill’ ambassador.

The film opens with Mohammed in 2005. Mohammed, along with his sister Nour and two male friends, has an amateur band with him as lead singer. Scrimping and saving they buy second hand musical equipment and start to perform at local weddings. Their budding career is interrupted when Nour develops a failing kidney and has to undergo Kino therapy. The alternative of a kidney transplant is beyond the family’s scarce means. They and Mohammed are distraught when Nour dies.

The film moves forward to 2012 when Mohammed is working as a taxi driver in order to fund his University studies. With the help of friends and Gazans involved in illicit smuggling he is able to leave Gaza for Cairo and enter the prestigious competition. The film ends with his success, the start of a popular career and the celebrations among people in Gaza at his victory.

The film presupposes some acquaintance with the popular culture in the region. So I had to look up ‘Arab Idol’ after seeing the film. The programme, ‘Arab Idol : Mahboub El Arab’, was based on the British TV programme ‘Pop Idol’. It commenced in 2011, following on from an earlier set of programmes, ‘Super Star’. Mohammed’s audition was in Cairo but the actual contest takes place in Lebanon. Applicants who passed the auditions compete over a series of weeks as, one by one, some are eliminated through audience voting. The finale presents the winner. Mohammed was successful in the second series in 2013.

Effectively the film falls into three parts. Mohammed’s early life in Gaza in 2005. Then his adult life in Gaza around 2012. And finally the television competition. In the 2005 sequences Mohammed is played by Qais Attallah.  I found the first part the most interesting and affecting. This is very much down to the character of Nour (Hiba Attahllah). She is the most dynamic character and something of a tomboy. And she is at this point in the film enjoys equal attention with Mohammed. The memory of her remains an important motivation for Mohammed later on.

The 2012 Gaza sequences emphasise the effects of the Israeli blockades and attacks. There is equal emphasis on the effects of Hamas rule. One of Mohammed’s erstwhile friends and band members is now a convinced member of the Islamic organisation, The film does generate a sense of Mohammed (Tawfeek Barhom) caught between the Israelis and Hamas. There is a despairing quality about his attempts to leave Gaza, very different from the élan of the youthful band seven years earlier. There is also a slight romantic interest in the character of Amal (Dima Awawdeh) who he met in the hospital where she received the same treatment as Nour.

Idol,Gaza

The third sequence commences in 2012 as Mohammed manages to leave Gaza and arrives in Cairo for the ‘Arab Idol’ auditions at the city’s Opera House. He has to overcome a succession of obstacles but succeeds and we then watch the succeeding stages of the competition. As Screen International commented this is the most ‘formulaic’ part of the film. There is intensive parallel cutting between the television auditorium, watching audiences in Gaza and elsewhere in Arabia and the situation of Mohammed, psychologically divided after his earlier travails. There are also several scenes on beaches or waterfronts, paralleling earlier scenes in  Gaza. In one of these we see a flashback montage to his early years, Nour and the band. It is now that he finds the resolve to carry on. As we view these final scenes and move into the end credits the actor of Mohammed is changed to the actual real-life singer.

The film is directed by Hany Abu-Assad who also wrote the screenplay together with Sameh Zoabi. Abu-Assad is a Palestinian director with an impressive output. His earlier films include Omar (2013), Paradise Now (2005) and Rana’s Wedding (2002). His films tend to dramatise the lives of ordinary Palestinians and this is true of The Idol. Whilst the focus is Mohammed, now a celebrity, much of the film presents the situation and settings of Palestinians in Gaza. Whilst the Israeli blockade and regular assaults are hardly mentioned in the dialogue, there are frequent references in the mise en scène. These include the security installations and fences that surround Gaza: the landscape full of destroyed buildings: and Palestinian victims like one man who has lost his legs.

Abu-Assad and his crew are also technically accomplished. The cinematography by Ehab Assal is well judged and impressively mobile. There are frequent tracks using a Steadicam. The film opens with a fast-paced race by Nour, Mohammed and their two friends across houses, constructions sites, balconies and walk-ways. [The sequence does look a little like the opening sequence of Skyfall (2012) where James Bond (Daniel Craig) chases down a character]. There are a number of repeat sequences of this type, including a delightful track along an underground  tunnel as a boy delivers food from Egypt’s WacDonalds. And when Mohammed arrives for the auditions in Cairo there is a similar sequence as he manages to ‘break in’ to the Opera House.

So this is a well-judged and very stylish portrait. The latter stages of the film are more conventional as the writing aims for the final ‘feel-good’ factor. We have the conventional plot point where a friend, now a member of Hams, waives his duty to help Mohammed. And this reduces the impact of the political side of the film. I felt that Abu-Assad was definitely criticising Hamas, and given this is Gaza there is no equivalent address of the problematic around Fatah. In the early part of the film the mise en scène frequently contrasts male dominated actions with watching women. We see this in the wedding sequences where it is the men who dance to the music and the women sit and watch. meanwhile Nour is hidden from the view of the audience as she plays in the band. And we see it again at Nour’s funeral where the coffin in followed by a male cortege. There is a contrast late in the film during ‘Arab Idol’ where the westernised audience and staff of both sexes mingle easily.

The oblique style of the references to the Israeli occupation are effective. But the final success of Mohammed and the response among Palestinians suggest a cultural avenue which seems unlikely to succeed. Mohamed does state at the finale of ‘Arab Idol’ that that he entered the contest because he wanted the Palestine’s voice to be heard. This stance is somewhat belied by the his expressed motivation in the days before when he was planning his ‘escape’ from Gaza. And the competition, a copy of that in neo-colonial Britain, emphasises individualism rather than community. Something which the frequent cutaways to celebrating Palestinians fails to counter. And the idea of UN ‘goodwill ambassador’ hardly seems to address the ferocity of the regular assaults on Gaza.

Audience, Idol

Abu-Assad’ s films tend to treat the armed struggle as problematic, witness Paradise Now and Omar. His work can be seen as part of a movement to build a Palestinian Cinema, in other words a ‘second cinema’ for the Palestinians with a touch of the auteur. So the film lack the direct and powerful opposition of films that focus primarily on the struggle, say Five Broken Cameras (2011). But they do, as with this film, offer powerful representations of Palestinians and they now offer the level of production values common across the world of ‘Festival’ cinema.

 

Posted in Arab Cinemas, Palestinian films | 1 Comment »

Notes on Palestinian Cinema

Posted by keith1942 on January 2, 2016

Palestine film Fest1[1]

Leeds enjoyed the first Festival of Palestinian Film in the City in November and December 2015. In all seven films were screened at various venues round the city, opening with a screening of The Wanted Eighteen as part of the Leeds International Film Festival and closing on December 15th at the Hyde Park Picture House with Open Bethlehem.

Palestine is a frequent presence in film: both dramatic features and documentaries. There are of course those produced in Hollywood. There are the several inexorable dramatisations of events at Entebbe. Then there are the equally reactionary treatment in films like Exodus (1960) and Judith (1966). Spielberg’s more recent Munich (2005), despite the attempt at a critical ending, offers much the same.

A slightly more complex view is offered by Oliver Assayas; Carlos (2010). The fil recounts actual events with some attempt at veracity. However, it offers little sympathy or empathy for the Palestinian characters. Better are the growing number of documentaries financed and made by western filmmakers. A good example is Two Blue Lines (2015) by Tom Hayes. Here Israeli voices are seen and ehard commenting on the long struggle, going back to Al Nakba. Another documentary is Apples of the Golan (2012). Made by two Irish ` it studies the situation of a Druze villeage close to the Israeli/Syrian border.

I should also note films with an opposing political line such as One Day in September (1999), focusing on the Munich staging of the Olympic Games, it echoes the stereotypes of mainstream film.

The Palestinians also appear in films made by other countries in Arabia. An early example is The Dupes (Al-makhdu’un Syria, 1972). The film was produced by the Syrian National Film Organisation and directed by Tawfiq Saleh, who adapted the story from a well-known novel. Saleh was an Egyptian filmmaker but he had encountered continuing problems of censorship in his home country. The three main protagonists are Palestinians trying to smuggle themselves into Kuwait from Syria in order to find work. They are Abou Keïss (Abderrahman Alrahy), Assaad (Saleh Kholok) and Marouane (Thanaa Debsi). And there is the smuggler Abou Kheizarane (Bassan Lofti Abou-Ghazala), who is also Palestinian. This is a bleak film, shot in black and white and Academy ratio. Much of the location work is in the desert, hot and desolate. But we also see the flashbacks of the Palestinians, recounting how they arrived at their situations. Here we see images of Al Nakba: in a montage of actual photographs. And we see recreations of the expulsion of the Palestinians by the Zionists and their life in refugee camps. This is a woeful rendering, made bleaker by the opportunism and greed that the refugees encounter from fellow Arabs.

Dupes

There are films of the Palestinians and their struggles going back to before Al Nakba. These are rarely seen but much footage can be found in Al Nakba, made for Al Jazeera by Rawen Damen in 2008.  This is a 200 minutes documentary in four parts. There is footage shot by the occupying British, the Zionist Settlers and then the Israeli occupiers: but there is also film shot by Palestinians and by Arabs. Much of this is newsreel but there were also documentary film and even a feature made, but lost during Al Nakba. In a demonstration of the effects of occupation the Zionist film has its own special archive, The Stephen Spielberg Jewish Archive, whereas Palestinian film is either scattered or lost.

Following the Israeli occupation of much of Palestine Palestinians either lived under Israeli occupation or became refugees. Some Palestinians worked on films made by Arab filmmakers. With the development of an active resistance represented by Palestine Liberation Organisation there were attempts to produce Palestinian film. There was a Festival in Beirut and a film team set up by the PLO. The latter developed an archive of film which was lost when the Israeli’s invaded Lebanon in order to expel the PLO. By now the Israeli’s had extended their occupation to cover the whole of the West Bank.

It was in this situation that the first surviving Palestinian feature film was made. This was Wedding in Galilee (Urs al-jalil 1987), produced by Israel, France, Belgium, and Palestine. The film was in standard widescreen and colour and in Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish. Intriguingly the version released in Israel was about thirteen minutes shorter than that released internationally.

wedding-in-galilee

The film is set in a Palestinian village as the headman seeks permission from the Israeli Governor for permission to celebrate his son’s wedding. The Governor attends with aides and as the day progresses the contradictions heighten. The director and writer, Michel Khleifi, was born in Nazareth but lived in exile in Belgium, He had already made a documentary and short film: and all three films have a central focus on Palestinian women, whose situation and conduct is an important aspect of the story.

In the 1990s another Palestinian filmmaker made a documentary, Chronicle of a Elia Disappearance (1996). Suleiman is also from Nazareth comes from the Greek Orthodox community. He lived in New York for a time then returned to Ramallah in the West Bank. Suleiman is an ironic director with a taste for the absurd and surreal. This documentary offers a very distinct and unconventional journey through occupied Palestine. Importantly, the film won an Award at the Venice Film Festival.

In 2002 Suleiman made the feature Divine Intervention / Yadon ilaheyya. The film was produced with funds from France, Morocco, Germany and Palestine. This was after the Oslo Accords and the film therefore was made under the remit of the Palestinian Authority. Following on the film was then submitted for the Best Foreign Language Category at the Hollywood Academy Awards. There appear to be different versions of what occurred: but an argument against its inclusion was that the Palestinian Authority did not qualify as a state. Clearly that argument was cover to more political objections. Interestingly the film was resubmitted in 2003 by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture and accepted by the Academy.

The film again has an oddball narrative. The threads that bind it together are the declining health of Suleiman’s father and a relationship with a woman from the other side of the barriers surrounding Palestinian controlled territory. The trysts of the couple take place alongside an Israeli checkpoint: and there are a variety of sometimes-bizarre sometimes-oppressive scenes here. One glorious sequence has the Israeli soldiers perplexed when a balloon bearing the visage of Yasser Arafat floats threateningly towards their control tower. Another depicts the conflict between Palestinian and Israeli as a variant on the Hong Kong martial arts conventions.

normal_divine_intervention_still_002

Since then several films produced by some combination of Palestinian and other state funding have been submitted by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture and included and accepted for the Academy Award listings.

In 2004 there was The Olive Harvest, written and directed by Hanna Elias. In this film two friends, one of whom has been in an Israeli prison, are in love with the same woman. The film dramatises the different political trajectories they follow.

In 2005 it was Paradise Now (Palestine, France, Germany, Netherlands, Israel 2005), written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Two childhood friends are recruited for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv: Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman). Their mission goes wrong and the film tends towards a critique of this type of action. In 2013 another film by Abu-Assad was submitted to the Academy, Omar (Palestine 2013). A young Palestinian freedom fighter agrees to work as an informant after he’s tricked into an admission of guilt by association in the wake of an Israeli soldier’s killing. There is an Israeli film with a similar plot.These are the only two films that made it through the Acedmy process to Nomination.

In 2008 the film submitted was Salt of the Sea (Milh Hadha al-Bah) written and directed by Annemarie Jacir. Soraya (Suheir Hammad), raised in the USA, returns to Palestine in an attempt to reclaim her family’s lost heritage. More recently Jacir wrote and directed When I Saw You (Lamma shoftak). This film treats the same issues but is set in 1967. Tarek (Mahmoud Asfa) is forced into exile in Jordan with his mother. He becomes friends with a group of Palestinian freedom fighter. This film was submitted in 2012.

wanted-18_slider_1451461779

The Wanted 18 (Canada, Palestine, France 2014) was the most recent submission in 2015. This film was made jointly by Paul Cowan, a Canadian filmmaker, and Amer Shomali, a Palestinian artist. During the First Intifada small Palestinian village bought 18 cows and stopped buying Israeli milk. The film uses a variety of animation techniques plus both recreated scenes and original footage. The latter, in a nice exception too much recent filmmaking, are shown in the original aspect ratio. The animation techniques, using stop-frame motion and models, are excellent. And the films script offers both very funny moments but also very moving moments. The events dramatised here date back to the first Intifada: and the film makes the point that this was before the Oslo Accords. The struggle of the village is collective and with a remarkable degree of autonomy.

Most of these filmmakers have made other works, including short films, documentaries and other features. And there are other Palestinian films, some co-productions with Israeli filmmakers. Five Broken Cameras (Palestine, France, Israel, Netherlands 2011) is essentially a Palestinian film made with the assistance of an Israeli filmmaker and funded by companies in nine different countries, developed through a European media project. The actual footage was filmed on domestic camcorders, recording the Israeli enforcement of a Palestinian village overlooked by a settlement and the Palestinian resistance.

And there are further film works on new digital formats and on the Internet. There are also documentaries involving Palestinians regularly on Al Jazeera. On Al Jazeera World Rawen Damen produced The Price of Oslo, and this film crosses over with some of the content of The Wanted 18.

Whatever the limitations of the present situation for Palestinians recent years have seen a ripening use of cinema as part of the struggle. The films range from work that aims to be part of a national cinema to works that are effectively ‘third cinema’. In this way they mirror the intense debates that continue with the struggle.

Wikipedia has pages on Cinema of Palestine and a List of Palestinian Submissions for the Academy Award.

See also The Palestine Film Foundation

And Palestine in film

 

Posted in Arab Cinemas, Palestinian films | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Leeds’ First Palestinian Film Festival

Posted by keith1942 on November 14, 2015

Palestine film Fest1[1]

The series of films about and/or by Palestinians is on offer in Leeds from November through December this year. The screenings commence during the Leeds International Film Festival.

The Wanted 18 (Palestine, Canada, France 2014) is screening on Sunday November 15th in the Albert Room at the Town Hall. The film was made by Canadian director and cinematographer Paul Cowan and Palestinian artist Amer Shomali. The film is set during the First Intifada and concerns the village Beit Sahour. The village bought 18 cows in order to set up a dairy and become more self-sufficient. The Israeli response was, as is so often the case, almost surreal but without that movement’s humour. The film tackles this subject with a range of techniques, including re-enactments, stop-motion animation, and archival footage and drawings. This combination gives the film the feel of a comic book and a very distinctive approach to the struggle. It runs 75 minutes, in both black and white and colour and with dialogue in Arabic, English and Hebrew – with subtitles.

Two Blue Lines (USA, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine 2015) is screening on Monday 23rd November at the Beckett Studio on the Headingley Campus of what was Leeds Met. The film was shot and produced by Tom Hays over a period of years. The film looks at the take-over of Palestinian lands by the Zionist settlers. Hays includes archive footage from those years, but he also interviews a range of people living in Israel, both those who are virulently anti-Palestinian and liberals who have some sympathy with the Palestinian plight. This makes for a distinctive and unusual treatment. And the early days of the settlement and occupation are not that frequently addressed, so the topic is important. The film runs for 99 minutes, it is in colour and in English.

Amreeka (USA, UAR, Canada, Kuwait, Jordan 2009) is showing at the Seven Arts Centre in Chapel Allerton on Tuesday November 17th at 7.30 p.m. The film is written and directed by Cherin Dabis. It is set mainly in Illinois. It charts the difficulties and problems that beset a single mother and her son after moving from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to the USA. It runs for 96 minutes, was filmed in colour and full widescreen, with Arabic, French and mainly English.

Divine Intervention (Yadon ilaheyya, France, Morocco, Germany, Palestine, 2002) is screening at the HEART Centre in Headingley on Friday 4th December at 7 p.m. This film, written and directed by Elia Suleiman, is something of a cause célèbre. It was nominated at the Cannes Festival and then an approach was made to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration in the Awards for Best Foreign Language Films. What happened then is a matter of dispute, but the film did not get consideration. However, the following year this was allowed. Since then we have had more Palestinian films considered for the Awards. The actual film, subtitled ‘a chronicle of love and pain, is unusual, a black and surrealist comedy, of a different order from the more frequent documentaries and dramas. This enable the film to treat issues that other films ‘do not reach’. It is in colour, is in Arabic, Hebrew and English with English subtitles: I think this will be the 92 minute version.

The final film is Open Bethlehem (aka Operation Bethlehem, Palestine, UAR, UK, USA 2015) and is screening at the Hyde Park Picture House on Tuesday December 16th at 6.30 p.m. It will be nice to finish with the full cinema experience. The film records the writer and director Leila Sansour’s journey to revisit and explore the town of her birth and upbringing. It seems she shot about 700 hours of footage and the result was something different from what she had expected. The film is in English, and in colour and runs for 90 minutes.

So this offers a fascinating and important exploration of the long struggle of Palestinians to regain their land and rid Palestine of settlements and occupation. The Festival is organised by the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign and there will be opportunities to discuss the political content of these films. The actual films are available elsewhere and can be checked out on IMDB.

NB – additional screenings have been added to the Festival, including: On the Side of the Road:  Thursday 10th December 7 pm, Hamara Centre, Beeston.

This documentary by Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky examines the collective Israeli denial about the expulsion and displacement of Palestinians in the wake of the 1948 war for independence.  Referred to by the Palestinian people as the Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” the destruction of villages resulted in generations of refugees and, as parks and new cities were built on the ruins of those villages, years of violent history were swept under the rug.  Tarachansky interviews several former soldiers who participated in the destruction.  The film refrains from dehumanizing either side, instead making the simple request that the region’s history never be forgotten.

Director: Lia Tarachansky, released 2013, running time: 82 minutes

After this screening Monica Wusteman from Pacbi and York PSC will give a short update on the Boycott divestment & sanctions movement.

On the Side of the Road – trailer –  https://vimeo.com/65278501

 

Posted in Films of Liberation, Palestinian films | Tagged: | 1 Comment »