Film festival brings Palestinian history to life | News Arts and Culture

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Black-and-white images of pre-1948 Jaffa, the enchanting coastal city Palestinians call the “bride of the sea,” slowly scroll across the big screen at the Qattan Cultural Center in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

With archival photos from 1930 to 1948, as well as rich sound design and video testimony from a charismatic old man whose family was expelled from Jaffa, director Rashid Masharawi took viewers on a captivating historical journey. who gave life to Palestinian Jaffa.

It was one of nearly 60 local and international films screened from November 1 to 7 during the ninth edition of the Palestine Cinema Days festival held annually in seven Palestinian cities. This year’s theme was “expressing visual memory”.

From images of people working on the docks – whether fishing or packing Jaffa’s famous oranges – to families and friends spending time on the beach, elderly men sitting in cafes smoking shisha and family portraits, Masharawi left audiences feeling present in that moment. on time.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen,” said my friend, who accompanied me to the screening on November 5, expressing the same reaction as me.

Masharawi, who was born in the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and whose family was also expelled from Jaffa in 1948, said the 60-minute documentary film “Recovery” is “a cinematic experience that restores their memories as well as ours – as an attempt to restore our relationship to time, space and the event”.

Through the memories of the elderly man, Taher Qalyoubi, born in 1929, the film tackles key moments in Palestinian history, including the mass uprisings against the oppression of British occupation and Zionist colonialism that culminated in the Nakba – the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine to create the Jewish state of Israel in 1948.

He remembers the last thing his mother said to him and his siblings when they were expelled by the Zionist militia on April 24, 1948: “Children, take a good look at Jaffa, God knows when we can see her again.

Speaking to a camera, Qalyoubi reveals the recurring question in his mind: “Is it possible? Is it possible that all of this happened to Jaffa and the Jaffans? »

It is the same question that arises in my mind – and in the minds of many Palestinians, especially when visiting striking cities such as Jaffa and Haifa, which have been ethnically cleansed of their Palestinian residents, leaving us to seek our traces in these spaces. .

For me, Masharawi’s film does what it set out to do: it manages to begin to repair our relationship with these places and events; it shows us a time when our homeland belonged to us.

Masharawi’s film also included archival footage of Palestinian refugee camps emerging from the 1948 Nakba. The plight of Palestinian refugees is the longest unresolved refugee problem in the world, with six million registered refugees at the actual hour [Zena Al Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

fierce competition

With a rich and curated selection of films, the Palestine Cinema Days film festival, organized since 2014 by the Ramallah-based organization Filmlab, never ceases to amaze.

The hall of the Ramallah Cultural Palace is always packed during the opening and closing nights of the film festival. According to organizers, thousands of people attended the seven-day festival, with screenings in the cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jenin, Haifa, Gaza City and Rafah. Different fictions, documentaries and independent short films were presented.

Not only does the festival provide a platform for local films and filmmakers, but it also introduces Palestinian audiences to new perspectives through Arab and international films, at a time of political instability and tension.

Each year, the festival also organizes the Palestine Sunbird Award, which awards significant monetary prizes, with the top prize of $10,000 given to film production. Twenty-four locally produced films competed this year.

Mish’al Qawasmi, a filmmaker from Jerusalem who won the top prize for his film The Flag, said he did not expect to win, especially since this year’s competition was so strong. The award means he will now be able to finance the production of his film.

“This year’s competition, in my opinion, has been the fiercest yet. The names of the people in competition are known and represent the rising generation of cinema. They are the ones taking the next step forward,” he told Al Jazeera during the closing screening on November 7.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win. But the nicest feeling is when you hear everyone clapping and calling your name around you. I’ve been in the film industry for a long time and the biggest prize was seeing all these people happy for me,” he said.

This year, the festival also hosted a sub-programme with a series of films marking 40 years since the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Beirut in 1982.

Hanna Atallah, the director of the festival, said the film festival was important because “nobody can tell our story like we can”. In any film, Atallah told Al Jazeera, “the most important question that remains is: who produces the image”.

This year’s closing film starred Farha – Jordan’s official Oscar entry in the International Feature Film category of the 95th Academy Awards 2023 – with celebrity actors Ali Suleiman and Ashraf Barhoum. Directed by Jordanian director Darin Sallam, the film is based on the real-life event of a 14-year-old girl who was locked in the pantry of her house in a small village during the Nakba.

Through the cracks in the wooden pantry door, viewers experience the horrific events of 1948 through the eyes of the teenage girl as a silent witness, leaving her forever changed.

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