London Palestine Film Festival 2012
This year's Palestine Film Festival in London celebrated 100 years of filmmaking in Palestine with the finest repertoire of films seen since the festival's inception in 1998.
The festival opened with Man Without a Cell Phone (2010) a 'generational comedy', which was followed by a question and answer session with the Cannes award-winning director Sameh Zoabi. Rarely-seen archival footage documenting British colonial rule of Palestine was a highlight of the festival, with commentary given by Francis Gooding of the Colonial Film project and Ilan Pappe, academic and author of the highly acclaimed The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
New Palestine Fiction brought together five short dramas previously unseen in the UK. Birth and Haneen (both 2011, directed by Dima Abu Ghoush and Ossama Bawardi respectively) are female-led tales of loneliness, longing and fear in a world where men have been killed, kidnapped or imprisoned. The Well (2011, directed by Ahmad Habash) harks back to 1948, and the men in this stark and silent film are seen to be humiliated and impotent in the face of foreign occupation, as one chooses to leave while the other remains. First Lesson (2010, directed by Areen Omari) explores the problems of defining Palestinian identity in Palestine and abroad, while Flower Seller (2011, directed by Ihab Jadallah) follows the movements of a Palestinian collaborator, showing that desperation can usurp all notions of loyalty, nationalism and, ultimately, morality.
One of the quiet triumphs of the festival was the short documentary Eid (2011, directed by Saaheb Collective), which tracks its eponymous protagonist as he creates works of art out of scrap metal, rubble and the remnants of destroyed houses in his village of Um el Kheir and showing, in turn, that creativity can indeed come out of destruction. The short film combines stop-motion animation and interviews that reveal the young Bedouin's refreshing take on life under military occupation. He argues that the bulldozer is a harmless and aesthetic vehicle until it is driven by someone with the intent to destroy.
Alongside the programme of full-length features and short films was an exhibition of video art from 1988 to 2011 entitled Navigations. Artists working in Palestine and as part of its diaspora were selected by the Palestine Film Foundation and ArtSchool Palestine, and included Abraaj Capital Art Prize winner Taysir Batniji, Mona Hatoum, Sharif Waked and Larissa Sansour, whose five-minute take on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey can still be seen as part of the exhibition Subversion at Cornerhouse gallery in Manchester. Themes of displacement, space and mobility, often prevalent in Palestinian art, were brought into fresh perspective with the use of documentary-style video, moving illustration and photographic slideshows.
This year's programme also featured pre-festival events at Hackney Picturehouse in partnership with Ciné Lumiere and Amnesty International, and two events tailored specifically for school children. There was also a book talk by Israeli writer Ella Shohat (author of Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation) and a screening of films looking 'Beyond Palestine'. Jordi Ferrer and Pablo Vidal's The Problem (2010) was about Morocco's occupation of the Western Sahara while The Long Night (2009, directed by Hatem Ali) examined the history of cultural opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. These, and the sheer variety of films on show, effectively established this year's festival as the most diverse and substantial to date.