GLOBAL NEWS | winter 2004
First Ramallah film festival
|Opening night at the Ramallah International Film Festival / photos by Hadani Ditmars
Little boys throwing stones. Men wearing kaffiyehs, shouting. Wailing women. These are the Palestinian images that spring to mind in the U.S. imagination. Film festivals are not what we usually envision.
But Summer 2004’s first Ramallah International Film Festival challenged stereotypes of Palestinians by offering images rarely seen in the West: a young woman meditating while artillery is fired nearby; a little girl playing the violin; a boy adopting a stray dog; a woman artist creating an installation piece from crushed cars.
These were a few of many topics covered by new Palestinian films screened nightly during the weeklong festival — and the majority was the work of women.
Veteran Palestinian American filmmaker Mai Masri offered the emotionally charged Ahlam Al Manfa (Frontiers of Dreams and Fears), about two refugee girls — one from the Shatilla camp in Lebanon and one from Dheisha camp in the West Bank. An extraordinary scene — recorded during the liberation of South Lebanon, where Palestinians from both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border embrace through barbed-wire fences — had audience members weeping.
But the festival program showcased the work of younger women, too. Leila Sansour’s Jeremy Hardy Vs. The Israeli Army relied refreshingly on humor to convey the poignancy of the situation. Sansour used the narrative of Hardy, the British comedian-turned-activist, to tell the story of International Solidarity Movement volunteers, whose efforts at peaceful resistance to the occupation were met by live fire and many other unfunny situations.
Intriguingly, Anne Marie Jacir’s Like Twenty Impossibles — one of the few nondocumentaries screened —cleverly played with the documentary format, blurring lines between fiction and reality while following the ill-fated trip of a film crew past an Israeli checkpoint.
While most films at the festival (by men and women alike) dealt with the overwhelming reality of refugees, occupation and ongoing conflict, there was a markedly different point of view in the films by women. Lina Bokhary’s Deluge, for instance, was the story of one woman’s emotional journey: a re-creation of her 23 days under virtual house arrest during the 2002 siege of Ramallah.
Understated images — an initial scene of her walking freely through a deserted town alone; watching old videos of parties in a darkened room; meditating with candles while artillery is fired a few feet away — were effective at communicating a specific predicament in a universal way. Filmed entirely in Bokhary’s house, scenes of her creating art, dancing and ruminating on psychological survival provide a unique perspective.
Though telling a personal story rather than forging a polemic might not seem revolutionary in the West, in the Palestinian context, Bokhary’s film is a watershed.
“Even the fact that I am in my 30s, unmarried and live alone is still an issue for me here,” explains Bokhary, whose film has won her a scholarship at the San Francisco Art Institute.
|Filmmaker Nahed Awad
She still holds great affection for her hometown of Ramallah — but freedom of movement is curtailed for those with West Bank ID cards, there are no post-secondary fine-arts programs available, and there is little in the way of a filmindustry infrastructure.
Consequently, many young women just shoot documentaries on digital cameras and do the editing themselves.
There is a sense of solidarity between Palestinian women in the arts. Nahed Awad, the 29-year-old filmmaker of Going for a Ride, was inspired by artist Vera Tamari’s installation of cars crushed by the Israeli Defense Force during incursions into Ramallah.
In the film, Awad finds photographs of the cars before they were destroyed, lovingly framed in images of wedding parties and families driving to daily appointments. The film implies a sense of how women are drawing creativity from the ashes of war.
In her latest film, The Lions, Awad, who studied cinema in Denmark, focuses on the minutiae of daily life as a survival mechanism during the siege of Ramallah. Simple shots — neighbor women hanging laundry or watering plants while tanks roll through the streets — are surprisingly moving. As to why she makes films, Awad says, “It’s just something I have to do — to document the situation. It’s something I can do.”