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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.

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Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2016

Posted by keith1942 on October 26, 2016

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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.

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The Idol / Ya Tayr El Tayer Palestine 2015

Posted by keith1942 on April 3, 2016

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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 »

Al Nakba, Al Jazeera 2008.

Posted by keith1942 on May 19, 2015

AlNakbaExpulsion2

I have been meaning to post on this four part documentary for some time. Now I see that it is being repeated on the UK channel, [Freeview 133}.  It is not that easy to access detailed listings for the Channel, but the UK TV Guide gives days and times but not which episode. I assume [and hope] that it is available elsewhere on Al Jazeera, it was showing on the Arabic channel. This is a documentary film about ‘the catastrophe’ that befell the Palestinian people in 1948. It traces the history of the colonial policies and actions that led to their expulsion from their homeland. It was made by Palestinian filmmaker and journalist Rawan Damen in 2008 and transmitted on the Al Jazeera Arabic network. Now an English-Language version is screened in the UK, with other language versions also available. It runs for 200 minutes and is going out in four parts. The episodes already transmitted are repeated several times.

Rawan Damen’s film is a fairly conventional television documentary using ‘talking heads’ and film and photographs. Much of the material and comment has been available in academic and historical publication. But now it is being presented in a fairly popular medium and it has the advantage of using visual material, which brings an increased power to the story. The film starts with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, a key event that was analysed by the Palestinian writer Edward Said in his great work Orientalism. The first two episodes address the British occupation and Mandate of Palestine following the First World War. In was in that conflict that the new Zionist Movement achieved its coup of the Balfour Declaration – the British support for a Jewish State was seen as a way of ensuring the British presence and it’s interests across the Middle East. It is difficult to decide which was more objectionable: the British colonial manipulation of a people and its lands, or the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of the Zionist in pursuit of a ‘Greater Israel’. Certainly the policies and practices of each have much in common. The British Mandate saw the use of house arrests and executions, concentration camps, house demolitions, the exiling of leaders and the harassment and dissolution of Palestinian institutions. Just as British laws from the Mandate still serve the Zionist State, so do the brutal methods pioneered by the British.

Episode two focuses on the Palestinian resistance and revolution from 1936 to 1939. This is a part of the tale which gives lie to Zionist clams of  ’a land without people’; and claims that a Palestinian nation did not exist. It also highlights the weakness and limitations of the Palestinian and Arab official leaders. Their failings were to be an important aid to the Zionist take-over in 1948. The other was the development of the Zionist military forces, which were happy to use actions now loudly condemned as ‘terrorism’ by Israel.

Episode three deals with the year of Al Nakba itself, 1948. This is full of scenes of violence and the stream of disposed Palestinians. With film and commentary it presents the actual events rather than the myths which have become commonplace. There is the United Nations, where the USA and President Truman, pressurize and buy a majority for the partition of Palestine. A vote that contravenes the UN Charter. Then there is the British State and Military. Shamefully, the Labour Government continues the aiding and abetting of the theft of Palestinian lands by the Zionists. Meanwhile the British military sits passively by whilst the Zionist start their takeover: the only British contribution is to prevent any intervention by the Arab States. There are the heroic Palestinian fighters, outnumbered, outgunned and with poor leadership at the top: in Jaffa the resistance was led by a woman fighter. Then there are the Zionists, about 40,00 in number and well armed, partly by contributions from around the world. Both Palestinian and Israeli historians argue how the plan to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the land of Palestinians was prepared in advance and ruthlessly implemented. The implementation included atrocities, massacres and the killing of women and children: all designed to drive the Palestinians from their land. Finally there are the Arab armies, poorly led and disunited. The best organised army, that of Jordan, was led by a British Officer, and the Jordanian Government was bought off by the effective acquisition of the West Bank. This narrative is filled out by the voices of the surviving refugees who still hunger for their land. It is a sad and disconcerting tale, but essential viewing for an understanding of contemporary Palestine and the Middle East.

Episode 4, the final chapter, follows on from 1948 and briefly travels to the present-day, [2008]. The years immediately following Al Nakba saw the Palestinians sold out by the Arab states and by the UN. The film addresses the murder of the UN representative Count Bernadotte by the Stern Gang: then conveniently swept under the carpet. And there is a self-serving interview from the time with Ralph Bunce. The film emphasises how the Zionist project for a ‘Greater Israel’ has been pursued over the years. There is not enough time for either the Suez war or the several invasions of Lebanon. But the key year of 1967 is addressed. And the film comes up to the near present when five to six million Palestinians are in exile, in Gaza, the West Bank, in refugee camps and around the world.  In the final sequences there are telling comments from both Palestinian and Israeli voices. One voice points out how in 1948 the Palestinians were misled by the feudal landowners now by the bourgeoisie. Several point out how the Zionist drive continues, in the West Bank and even more brutally against Gaza. And whilst some voices wonder if the dream of return will ever be achieved another points out that ‘Israel will not be around for ever.’

This last point is important. The myths perpetuated around Al Nakba have, to a degree, been dispelled. The current violence by the Israeli state against Palestinians could well be the paroxysms of a state that sees it dominance slipping away. As the US superpower declines one doubts that any other protector will emerge. Even so the struggle remains long and hard. To paraphrase a much quoted wrier Clausewitz, ‘Israeli policy is the continuation of Al Nakba by other means’.

Rawan Damen has added an impressive range of commentators, including both Palestinian and Israeli historians, and ordinary Palestinians including refugees from Al-Nakba. This and the impressive array of actual film from the period really create its effect. There has been excellent research to retrieve film that has not been seen for a long time, including material in the British Archives. This is both an important documentary film and contribution to the struggles of the Palestinian people. Fortunately Al Jazeera tend to repeat their programme several times. Definitely tune into Al Jazeera –  the channel is worth watching for a different slant on the news.

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When I saw You, Palestine 2012

Posted by keith1942 on January 15, 2015

when-i-saw-you

I saw this film in a digital version at a new film forum, Cinémathèque Bradford . This will offer fortnightly screenings of films from art and political cinemas. It is based at the Kala Sangam South Asian Arts Centre, which is right near the Bradford City Cathedral and marked on the helpful council signposts. The film series is jointly organised between the Centre and Reel Solutions. This opening film had an audience of about fifty, a good start.

Roy Stafford or colleagues, long experienced in the Film Extra programmes at the National Media Museum, is providing introductions before the films. For this event he talked about the filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, who was bought up in the USA in a family made refugees during al Nakba. Jacir started out with short films and then worked on a 2004 documentary set in the Second Intifada, until when. Since then Jacir has made two features, Salt of this Sea (2008) and this more recent release. Roy filled in Jacir’s career with extracts and also talked about Palestinian cinema.

Whilst Salt of this Sea relied partly on European funding When I saw You enjoyed support from film funds in Jordan and the Emirates. It has been released and exhibited in Palestine and Jordan.  The occupied territories have only a few cinemas though the film has also been seen in alternative venues. Roy made the point that Arab funding had allowed Jacir to make a film that was primarily directed at Palestinian audiences.

The film opens as Tarek (Mahmoud Asfa) and his mother (Rubal Bial) arrive in a refugee camp in Jordan in 1967. The 1967 Israeli invasions led to a fresh flood of Palestinian refugees, but notably it also gave rise to an armed resistance against the Settler State and its colonial occupation. Thus the film plays into memories that would be very powerful for Palestinian audiences.

Tarek is determined to return to his home and to his father, missing. Setting out he ends up in a training camp for the fedayeen, the new fighters in a national liberation struggle. Searching for her son the mother also arrives at the camp and both are taken in by the fedayeen.

The director has accepted that the representation of the fedayeen camp is ‘romantic’, in a sense we see the camp and its fighters through the eyes of Tarek. But it has also been carefully researched in terms of the weapons, training and routines. And the leader at the camp, Abu Ahram (Ali Elayam), talks in the recognisable resistance language of the period.

Any violence takes place off-screen. However we hear reports of both actions against the Zionists by the fedayeen and of atrocities committed by the Israeli military.

The film follows the logic of Tarek’s determination, though the ending is open – a freeze frame. Here the film obviously taps into the long delayed liberation, which in the film is an expectation held by the fedayeen and by other Palestinians.

Roy made the point that Palestinian films have a higher level of awareness in International cinema that any other Arab industry, [unfortunately it is fairly difficult to see Arab films]. Whilst there is a lack of production and infrastructure facilities there have been a number of successful Palestinian films in recent years, both circulating to Festivals and winning awards. Annemarie Jacir was herself involved in setting up the Palestinian Film Festival in New York. We seem to have a bona fide national cinema, even if the Palestinians do not yet a have a nation state in which it can be sited. Certainly When I Saw You, like a number of Palestinian films can be placed in Solanos and Getino’s category of second or national cinema. Roy remarked that the fedayeen in 19167 were part of an ‘international opposition to colonialism/imperialism – and Zionism’. Whilst this film makes the point that the conflict is a neo-colonial conflict, the place of Israel within neo-colonialism is not clearly spelt out. In that sense, as with several other films, it endures the limitations pointed out by Solanos and Getino. It has to be recognised, of course, that it provides an important contribution to Palestinian consciousness as the struggle continues. For Western audiences it provides a really interesting insight into an aspect of the struggle that is probably little known.

The film has not had an UK release and outside Arabia seems mainly to have been seen at Festivals. There is a North American DVD.

 

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Grupo Ukamau

Posted by keith1942 on August 20, 2014

Blood of the Condor

Blood of the Condor

This is a film collective based in Bolivia and unfortunately their work is very difficult to see in the UK. It was formed in 1968 and included Jorge Sanjinés, director: Osca Soria, scriptwriter: Antonio Eguino, cinematographer: and Ricardo Rada, producer.  Bolivia is a land-locked country in the central Andes, named after the great Liberator Simon Bolivar. The population is divided between Quechua and Aymara Indians, mestizos [of mixed European and Indian descent] and a small elite of European descent. Soon after the Spanish conquest silver was discovered. Mining became and has remained the most important economic activity, though natural gas has joined this in recent decades. As is the case elsewhere in Latin America the modern period has alternated between military coups [apparently 189 by 1980] and ‘democratic’ government,

The Grupo Ukamau took their name from a film made for the Bolivian Film Institute. It dramatised the exploitation of the indigenous Aymara Indians through the tale of revenge by an Indian on a mestizo [a petit bourgeois] who raped his wife. The final confrontation takes place on the Altiplano, the high Andean plateau. Whilst this involves just the two men [shades of Greed, 1923] it quite clearly involves class and ethnic conflicts. It was certainly seen as critical by the then military government who dismissed the group members who then developed independent film production.

In 1969 the group made what is probably their most famous film, Blood of the Condor (Yalwar Mallku). Filmed in black and white it recounted actual events when members of the US ‘Progress Corps’ [‘gringos’, also known as the Peace Corp] were secretly sterilising Quechua women under the guise of medical aid. The film was initially banned but aroused great interest and in 1971 the Peace Corp was expelled from Bolivia. The film also attracted international attention and was seen as part of the New Latin American Cinema emerging across the continent. Whilst the film was made with the help of the Indian villagers who appear in the film, its form is recognisably similar to western art films. There is a complex use of flashbacks and overall the film fits into the melodrama of protest mould. One obvious influence is Soviet Montage, and the final freeze frame of the film with upraised rifles appears to homage October 1927. Both this film, Ukamau and later films make use of the quena or Indian wooden flutes.

The Grupo members became critical of their own approach and the form of their next major feature, Courage of the People (El coraje del pueblo, 1971), was different. The film dramatised the massacre of striking miners in 1967. Witnesses to these events provided the substance of the film and appeared in it. The Grupo members took care to discuss both the form and content of the film with this community as it was made. Noticeably the film eschews the use of flashbacks [which some Indians found confusing] and of close-ups, tending to the long take. The witnesses provide multiple narration of the events: and the form of the film is elliptical and still complex. The focus shifts from the individual protagonist familiar in dominant cinema to ‘the solidarity of the group’.

A period of exile split the group and two further features were made outside Bolivia by Rada and Sanjinés. The Principal Enemy (El enemigo principal, Peru/Bolivia 1973) describes events in Peru in 1963 when an Indian community struggled for justice. The film includes the recollections of a community leader setting out the long struggle of the community from the time of the Spanish invasion onwards.  Get out of Here! (Fuera de Aqui, Bolivia/Ecuador 197) recounts a struggle by Andean Indians to protect their land from a multi-national corporation. In a parallel with Blood of the Condor a US religious sect is part of the process of expropriation.

Title

Two more films were then made in Bolivia and in colour. Banners of the Dawn (Banderas del amanecer, Bolivia 1983) is a documentary tracing democratic struggles against dictatorship between 1978 and 1983. And there is what appears to be the last film by Ukamau to get a substantial release in Europe, The Clandestine Nation (La nación clandestina, Bolivia 1989 with funding from the UK/C4, Spain, Germany and Japan). The film recounts the journey, physical and mental, of an Indian representative who is corrupted by dealings with a US food programme. His journey is one of repentance and expiation, but it is also an exploration of the community values and rituals. Sanjinés, and his cinematographer César Pérez, adhere to the practice of long takes or sequence shots, emphasising the community and the landscape in which it lives. The film does return to the use of flashbacks, but these are integrated into the contemporary as the camera ‘pans’ rather than cuts from past to present. This is effectively a type of complex montage similar to that seen at work in Ivan the Terrible Part 2 (1946).

Ukamau have made further films since then [Para recibir el canto de los pájaros (1995), released in Bolivia and Germany; Los hijos del último jardín (2004), released in Bolivia and Japan] but they do not appear to have circulated Europe. The most recent film Insurgents (2012) has only enjoyed releases in Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico.

Apart from the film work Sanjinés and the Ukamau Group have produced agitational and theoretical material. The major work is a set of Manifestos, ‘Theory & Practice Of A Cinema With the People’.  The carefully worded title is important. One of the developing emphases in Ukamau’s work is giving cinematic voice to the subjects, transforming them from the objects of dominant cinema. In Problems of Form and Content in Revolutionary Cinema:

A film about the people made by an author is not the same as a film made by the people through an author. As the interpreter and translator of the people, such an author becomes their vehicle. When the relations of creation change, so does content and, in a parallel process, form.“

The point is illustrated by comparisons drawn between Blood of the Condor and The Principal Enemy.

When we filmed Blood of the Condor with the peasants of the remote Kaata community, we certainly intended that the film should be a political contribu­tion, denouncing the gringos and presenting a picture of Bolivian social reality. But our fundamental objective was to explore our own aptitudes. We cannot deny this, lust as we cannot deny that our relations with the peasant actors were at that time still vertical. We still chose shots according to our own personal taste, without taking into account their communicability or cultural overtones. The script had to be learned by heart and repeated exactly. In certain scenes we put the emphasis entirely on sound, without paying attention to the needs of the spectators, for whom we claimed we were making the film. They needed images, and complained later when the film was shown to them. …

During the filming of Courage of the People, many scenes were worked out on the actual sites of the historical events we were reconstructing, through discussion with those who had taken part in them and who had a good deal more right than us to decide how things should be done. Furthermore, these protagon­ists interpreted the events with a force and conviction which professional actors would have found difficult. These compañeros not only wanted to convey their experiences with the same intensity with which they had lived them, but also fully understood the political objectives of the film, which made their participation in it an act of militancy. They were perfectly clear about the usefulness of the film as a means of declaring throughout the country the truth of what had hap­pened. So they decided to make use of it as they would a weapon. We, the members of the crew, became instruments of the people’s struggle, as they expressed themselves through us!

This is notable both in the visual and aural style of the film.

Our decision to use long single shots in our recent films was determined by the content itself. We had to film in such a way as to produce involvement and participation by the spectator. It would have been no use in The Principal Enemy, for example, to have jumped sharply into close-ups of the murderer as he is being tried by the people in the square, because the surprise which the sudden introduction of a close-up always causes would have undercut the development of the sequence as a whole, whose power comes from within the fact of collective participation in the trial and the participation by the audience of the film which that evokes. The camera movements do no more than mediate the point of view and dramatic needs of the spectator, so that s/he may become a participant. Sometimes the single shot itself includes close-ups, but these never get closer to the subject than would be possible in reality. Sometimes the field of vision is widened between people and heads so that by getting closer we can see and hear the prosecutor. But to have intercut a tight close-up would have been brutally to interpose the director’s point of view, imposing mean­ings which should arise from the events themselves. But a close-up which is arrived at from amongst the other people present, as it were, and together with them, carries a different meaning and expresses an attitude more consistent with what is taking place within the frame, and within the substance of the film itself.

Distribution and exhibition were equally seen as essential aspects of film work.

In Bolivia, before the appalling eruption of fascism there, the Ukamau Group’s films were being given intensive distribution. Blood of the Condor was seen by nearly 250,000 people! We were not content to leave this distribution solely to the conventional commercial circuits, and took the film to the countryside together with projection equipment and a generator to allow the film to be shown in villages where there is no electricity.

The article also refers to similar practices by other groups of filmmakers in Argentina, Chile [before the coup], and Ecuador. The Manifesto clearly falls within the wider ambit of the New Latin American Cinema that arose in the 1960s. One can see crossovers between this statement and analysis and other works like ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ and ‘For an Imperfect Cinema’.

The prime focus of Ukamau is the Andean Indian communities who are the subjects of their films. But their work also offers an important example for other filmmakers. I went back and revisited their work after critically viewing two Palestinian films.

Five Broken Cameras is a record of a village under occupation by Israel as it constructs the ‘separation wall’. The filmmaker and major protagonist in the film, Emad Burnat, was assisted in producing the film by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi. What emerges is the voice of this Palestinian farmer: given voice in part through the cinematic skills of the Israeli filmmaker. The film’s power resides mainly presenting this voice and this experience. The major weakness in the film is a lack of an analytical overview: something that I have noted in a number of documentaries set in Palestine. The work of Ukamau offers an example of both giving voice but also drawing out the actual overall social relations at work.

The second film is Apples of Golan. This is a documentary made by two Irish filmmakers in an area occupied by Israel along the Golan Heights, bordering Syria. This film is also very effective but a major weakness is a rather confused presentation of the politics of the people. Whilst the local population oppose the Israeli occupation there is also a strong sense of support for President Assad in Syria, who is seen as a protector. The filmmakers obviously found this a problematic aspect. And the film does not really present a clear sense of the community’s take on this. In fact, in a Q&A, it transpired that the editing took place in Dublin and that the ‘form of the film’ emerged in this process. This is the opposite of the methodology developed by Ukamau and would seem to explain the lack of clarity.

Theory & Practice appeared in Spanish in Siglo XXI Editores in 1979. A translation into English by Richard Schaaf was published in the USA by Curbstone Press in 1989. In 1983 a translation by Malcom Coad of Problems of Form and Content appeared in a BFI Publication for Channel 4, Twenty-five Years of the New Latin American Cinema, edited by Michael Chanan.

The Workers Film Association Media & Cultural Centre in Manchester had Ukamau films in its catalogue, so it is worth checking with them.

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Apples of the Golan, (Austria, Ireland, Syria, Israel 2012)

Posted by keith1942 on August 19, 2014

ApplesOfTheGolan1web1

This is a documentary filmed in the occupied Golan Heights between September 2007 and July 2012. It was filmed, directed and edited by Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth, with Keith on camera and Jill on sound. The film is centred in the village of Majdal Shams, which is a Druze village which before 1967 was part of Syria. Israel invaded the territory and has occupied it ever since. The Druze are found across the area in Palestine and in what is now Lebanon. In 1982, in defiance of international law, Israel annexed the territory. Most of the residents have refused Israeli citizenship and their ID cards bear the code, ‘undefined’. The film shows us the place and the inhabitants. One of its strengths is the variety of voices it offers. We see and hear men, women, old and young, committed nationalists and members more divided over their situation. We also see ex-prisoners from the resistance to occupation. We do see one member of a Zionist settlement – revealingly an Argentinean immigrant. The film suggests a generation gap on the issue of Syria as a ‘homeland’. But at the same time there seems to be a fairly solid consensus of opposition to Israeli occupation.

The film is both thoughtful and complex. The editing in particular cuts between different viewpoints and different times in the filming. This suggests some of the ambiguities that the filmmaker identified. It is also a film that uses a rich mise en scène and sound design to add comment. Thus at two points we hear a local piece of hip-hop. A recurring shot of mist floating over the town and the heights is also extremely suggestive. The apples are the most compelling symbol, one for the Druze that is also economic. One local refers to the ‘roots’ of the apples trees and of the local inhabitants.

After a screening co-director Keith Walsh in a Q&A talked about the filming and answered questions from the audience. Jill and Keith first heard of the situation in 2006 from a colleague in Galway. After raising funds they commenced their project in 2007. Over the five years they visited the area eight or nine times. At first they got the feel of the place, talked to ‘official’ voices and developed a sense of confidence with the community. Interestingly, apart from two occasions shown in the film, they had few problems with the Israeli authorities or the military. Surprisingly the Golan Heights are popular tourist attraction in the area.

They recorded some two hundred hours and film and sound. Keith explained that the editing emerged out of the footage. When he or Jill had different proposals they ‘parked’ the issue. Usually when they returned later the best course was clear. He also noted that the style changed to a degree over the filming period. There are signs of this but the film uses a complex time order which is very effective in suggesting ambiguities but also in developing the impact of the experiences of the village.

The film was launched in Dublin in late 2012. Keith commented that interest took a sudden increase when the USA was considering ‘bombing Syria’. Since then it has won the Jury Prise at the Baghdad Film Festivals.

The people suffering under the Israeli occupation have enjoyed some excellent film attention in recent years. This documentary is another strong account of a particular people who usually enjoy limited attention. One weakness would be that the underlying historical and political relations are rather taken for granted. And pragmatically I had to look up the village on the Internet to get a clear sense of the topographywhich is important in the film [See this, in the top, centre quadrant].  But the film brings a complexity to its treatment of the situation, which is rare in documentaries.

The other major weakness is in the presentation of the indigenous communities. One senses that there are divisions with reference to the situation in Syria, where a civil war wages. This also seems to affect the stance that is taken against the Israeli occupation. My feeling was that the film needed a debate between the different groupings, whereas what see and hear is the variety of opinions presented by the filmmakers. The final form of the film was clearly determined by the filmmakers after the actual filming, miles away in Dublin. So there is not a sense of ‘authorship’ by the indigenous communities. This is an outsider view, though it is sympathetic and attempts to be empathetic.

It is interesting to compare this film with another documentary set among peoples occupied by Israel – Five Broken Cameras. In that film the record and the standpoint are provided by the Palestinian farmer cum filmmaker. This not only provides a greater sense of immediacy but also offers the indigenous people’s attitude to the struggle, including the differences that are found within it.

I saw the film at the Hyde Park Picture House, together with the Q&A, as part of the Leeds International Film Festival.

 

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Omar, Palestinian territories, 2013.

Posted by keith1942 on July 18, 2014

Omar still

 

This is the latest feature directed by Hany Abu-Assad: he also produced and scripted the film. His earlier feature Paradise Now (2005) concerned suicide bombers against Israel. In this film a young Palestinian involved in resistance is imprisoned by the Israeli’s who set him up to be an informant. One can see thematic parallels between the two films which depict the brutal occupation by the Zionist regime bur which also explore the political and personal problematic of Palestinians involved in their struggle for freedom. This new film is well produced and the story holds one’s attention. It also depicts the violence and repression suffered by Palestinians under occupation. Hany Abu-Assad, who has made several features and shorts, would seem to be a key figure in the construction of a Palestinian National Cinema. That he has chosen to work within the severe restrictions of the occupied Palestinian Territories is expressive of his stance.

My sense was that this new feature is the more conventional film. The Palestinian relationships revolve around a triangle of Omar (Adam Bakri), Nadia (Leem Lubany) and Tarek (Eyad Hourant). These are convincing, as is the key Israeli security character Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Zuaiter). And the film makes good use of the topography of the occupied territories [using Nazareth and Nablus as locations) and in particular the separation [or ‘isolation’] walls constructed by the Israeli’s.  And the operations, both of the resistance group and of Israeli security are convincing. However, the plotting of the personal relationships becomes more conventional as the film progresses and this conventionality shades over into the film’s resolution, especially in the final shot.

One matter that caught my attention was the oddities around the attribution of origin. The National Media Museum listed the Palestinian territories and this designation is also used by the Hebden Bridge Picture House [who screen the film on the 29th and 30th of July]. However Sight & Sound lists‘Israel [Palestine] / United Arab Emirates’. The Press Notes from the distributor Soda do not give a country of origin? In fact the film was nominated by the Palestinian Authority for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and accepted by the Academy on that basis. Given the Hollywood’s history of pro-Zionist films this is a welcome change of heart, and bizarrely the Academy appears more liberal than the British Film Institute. The status of Palestinian lands has been a crucial battle in the media and the wider culture. As far as the imperialist  [known euphemistically as the International Community] are concerned they have supported the illegal designation of the lands as Israel. It creeps into cinematic offerings: so The Battle of Britain (UK 1969) before the end credits lists the various groups who were among ‘the few’. And this list includes two whose origin is given as ‘Israel’! That is before the settler regime and its state had even been constituted. It is a sign of the growing support for the Palestinian struggle that there are breaches in this linguistic wall.

It is worth noting that among the other films in that category for 2014 was a feature nominated by Israel, Bethlehem (2013). This film also details the relationship between an Israeli security officer and a Palestinian informant. This is clearly an important aspect of the current struggle.

I actually saw the film at the Vue cinema in Leeds Light. Since this chain no longer produce printer programmes I am not sure if they gave a derivation or what it might have been. However, a couple of other points need to be noted. Omar ends with a several close-ups and then a cut to a black screen. At this point at the Vue the auditorium lights came back up – not gradually on a slider but abruptly. I did have a word with the manager afterwards and pointed out how insensitive this was for any feature, but especially one as important as Omar. The other point I noted was the DCP was sourced from a version with ‘edited credits’, which also seemed a little odd.

 

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