Palestinian-British Film Week in Gaza
Suheil Tarazi finds that the short films in the Palestinian-British film Week, highlight the complex issues that face people in this area of the world and yet still manage to entertain.
‘I am very pleased to report an artistic event that is entirely different from the daily scene I always cover for Gaza over the past years’ said Shuhdi El Kashef, the BBC Arabic correspondent in Gaza, in his short interview with me after of the short film week in Gaza.
Aiming to provide a platform for debate among young filmmakers and audiences in Palestinian Territories and to help revive the artistic and cultural scene in Gaza, the British Council worked with a network of local partners to organise film weeks in the West Bank and Jerusalem in early 2011. The films submitted by British and Palestinian filmmakers addressed three main themes: ‘Identity & Home’, ‘Struggle & Resistance’ and ‘Social Challenges’.
Later on in the year, we decided to explore implementing the project in Gaza. We worked with Al Aqsa University and Gaza Association for Culture and Arts to launch the short Palestinian-British film Week at the end of the year which was very popular and successful among our partners and audiences.
At the beginning I was hesitant to implement the project in Gaza due to the present difficult situation and possible rejection of some films by our local partner organisations. Surprisingly, the opening ceremony and the screening programme were well received by Gazans from across the tiny coastal territory (which though tiny is home to 1.5 million people).
In the four days’ screening programme, and through an extensive outreach programme, we engaged with audiences form different geographical areas across Gaza. The number of people reached exceeded our expectations with 1500 people watching the screenings. The conference rooms at Al Aqsa University in Gaza and Khan Younis cities were almost full with students and lecturers. As for the Said Al Mishal Cultural and Scientific Establishment the audiences were from a diverse back ground: journalists, writers, film makers, producers, and film critics.
Rezq Al Bayyari, a journalist and a poet from Gaza said ‘there is a need to communicate and continue such events particularly those that are suitable for the local culture and kept up with modernity’.
Three 40-minutes discussion sessions were held after the evening screenings organized by Gaza Centre for Culture and Arts to answer the questions raised by the audience particularly the debate about the 20 year-old girl in ‘Majd’ who chose the theatre as a platform for self expression and defended her martyr brother despite her society’s criticism.
‘Transit’, ‘On the run with Abdul’. and ‘Laundry’ also had a special flavour that attracted the public audience. At the same time portraying the innovative work of foreign film makers.
I believe the 18 films presented in the festival have shed light on complex social, political, economic and human issues in simple entertaining language appreciated by all our Gaza audiences.
The following are synopses for the films that were mentioned in the blog:
* Transit: In transit through an airport, a young boy stumbles across the path of a desperate man and discovers a message that he cannot ignore.
*Laundry: Lucia has been living in England since the 1990′s Balkans War. This is the story of her journey home to Croatia, to introduce her English-speaking son to her elderly mother. She finds her eccentric mother living in a rural farmhouse and comedy ensues as Lucia tries to ‘modernise’ her traditional way of living. But Lucia cannot escape the traumatic remnants of the war, particularly when tragedy beckons as she discovers they are surrounded by minefields.
* ‘Majd’: The film tells the story of a 20 year-old Palestinian girl whose brother is an Islamic Jihad martyr. She decides to continue her brother’s journey in defending her land, choosing theatre as her platform for expression. The girl finds herself forced to deal society’s criticism but nevertheless insists on her choice and talent, believing theatre is her means of contributing to society.
* On the run with Abdul: the filmmakers go to Calais to make a film about refugees who are trying to get into Britain, but then they meet 16 year- old Abdul and suddenly things aren’t so simple. This is a film about the plight of refugees, as well as exploring the often delicate balance between subjects and filmmakers.