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Palestinian film forum breaking the cultural siege on Gaza

Bianca Zammit & Rada Daniell | ISM Gaza

17 January 2010

The Palestinian Film Forum (the Forum) was established in 2004 as a branch of the Pal estinian Artists Union covering both Gaza and the West Bank. In the last couple of months it has intensified its activities aiming to achieve an ambitious list of tasks and ensure development of Palestinian cinematography and its networking with the other world cinematographies.

The Forum recently organised the first film festival in Gaza in many years. The International Al Quds Film Festival took place between 21 and 23 December ’09 and film makers from 11 Arab countries showed 52 documentary and feature films, two of which were made in cooperation with Spanish and Dutch filming associations. All films focused on Al Quds or Palestine and explored issues of life under siege and occupation and five of them were awarded Gold Olive prices.

Eager to find out more about their work and plans for the future, on 14 January 2010 we met up with the Forum’s founding members, Enas Altawil, Spokeswoman and PR Manager, Zahir Al Kashef, Film and Video Manager and Suad Mhanna, Forum’s President.

They told us that Gaza did not have a cinema and that Gazans were deprived of the art of film and opportunities to escape the grim reality of the life under the siege. When we asked if that was because Gazans were not interested in films, PFF founders told us that nothing could be further from the truth.

Gazans love of film has a long history and that there used to be many cinemas in the Gaza strip. One was located in the Beach (Shati’) Refugee Camp, two in Rafah, four in Gaza City and one in Khan Younis and one of those cinemas was opened 24 hours a day’, said Enas.

The number of cinemas gradually reduced from 1967 onwards and the last one closed in 1987 with the start of the First Intifada.

‘Our dream is to have a cinema in Gaza again. We want to either ‘revamp’ an existing closed one or to build a new one and for this we need to fundraise’, said Enas, ‘ Money is in short supply in Gaza and there are many competing funding priorities for the Gazan Government’.

Gazans’ love of film is illustrated by the enormous excitement surrounding a forthcoming showing of the British blockbuster ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ which was arranged by the British Council. Enas said that Forum would love to establish a live satellite link with the Director Danny Boyle and to have the opportunity to have a discussion about the film.

‘The absence of cinema has an impact on the mentality of Gazans’, said Forum’s President Saud. He believes that cinema would play an important role in the development of the culture of dialoque. It would help explore many community issues which Gazans, and young people in particular, are grappling with.

Also, the war and siege have minimised opportunities for creative expression for many existing and potential film makers, professional and amateur. This includes Forum founders Suad Mhanna, who is a well known Palestinian film director, Zahir also a film director and Enas who previously worked for 15 years as a presenter in the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. And there are many others like them. There are also many budding film makers and media enthusiasts born out of the long siege and the destructive attacks by Israel a year ago, when the wold media were kept away by Israelis and when many Gazan’s became film makers, journalists and photographers in order to tell the wold what was happening to them.

One of the Forum’s main objectives are to bring together all Palestinian film and media personnel wherever they currently work and give them an opportunity to contribute to the development of Palestinian cinematography.

The Forum also wants to link creative energies of Palestinian film and media artists with those of their colleagues around the world and create opportunities sharing experiences and developing skills . This would include organising joint training and learning programs, collaborative film making and other media projects and bringing world cinema into Gaza.

Preservation of Palestinian heritage is another of the Forum’ important objective. This would be addressed by establishing a film archive and ensuring that Palestinian films, old and new, are made available to film lovers around the world.

The Forum is facing an enormous task of having to address the devastating impact of the siege and occupation and their strangling grip on Palestinian society, including film and media aspects of its culture. This includes: physical isolation, very limited freedom of movement of people and goods and a chronic lack of funding.

The Forum will shortly start to enroll members which shall be open for all those who want to work for the benefit of Palestinian cinematography.

‘The occupation and siege have prevented development of Palestinian film and media inspite of the enormous talent and strong motivation and commitment present. Lots of catching up needs to be done’, said Enas. Zahir added that on the technical side they were starting from zero. ‘We are currently showing films by DVD and we need literally everything including HD cameras, projection, editing, lighting, sound, transmission equipment etc.’, said Zahir adding that they are not after cash but would gratefully receive any of these mentioned essential items.

Enas told us that in the long term they would like to have a building where all resources needed for film making and training would be provided under one roof.

All Forum members stress that it is not only their desire but a duty to their country to ensure that Palestinians have cinematography and to share it with the world. They are well aware of the obstacles they face. ‘Nothing is easy in Gaza’ they all agree and gave us examples of the recent problems they have had to face. Gaza’s borders are almost hermetically sealed and when Forum wanted to invite an innovative Egyptian film director to do a presentation, yet inspite of their best efforts he could not get a travel permit . Also, all film making equipment is banned by Israeli Authorities from reaching Gaza even if there was money to purchase it.

Against all odds, the Forum continues to deliver as best as it could. The Forum has recently held an event called ‘Cinema and War’ where is showed three locally produced films; Beautiful by Hikmet Al Maswi, Little Pieces of Destruction by Abdel Rahman Al Humra and Shadows in the Darkness by Jihad Sharkawi.

Even though “nothing is easy in Gaza’ many Gazans seem to be able to achieve the impossible on a daily basis.

All those who want to be a part of this project to give film back to Gazans and Palestinian film to the world, please email Enas Atawwil on [email protected]

Rada Daniell and Bianca Zammit are human rights activists with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza.