Sheila and Fairouz…

Mon Jul 29,2013

It’s very hard to receive an email that’s so harsh, yet so delicate: “It is the end. It is matter of hours or maximum of a few days.” Roza Bosch referring to the deteriorating health of DIFF’s director of the international programme, Sheila Whitaker.

And in a matter of hours, Sheila left us. But she left behind a legacy of love, dedication, professionalism and memories.

She had been with the festival for 9 years, since it began and she was determined and looking forward to the 10th edition, but sadly she was unable to finish the journey.

I knew her over those years to be meticulous, clear, understanding, opinionated, professional, and passionate. She is the school that taught me a great deal, without having to sit in a classroom. We exchanged thousands of emails, mostly about film and cinema, but also about humanitarian issues she believed in, defended, and dedicated a lot of time, effort and money for.

I always wondered why was she attached to Palestine, why did she love Mahmoud Darwish, and why did she vigorously defend their rights, why is she an activist, and why is she programming for an Arab film festival and then I finally understood. The answer came from Roza: “In her final hours, she was listing to Um Kulthoom and Fairouz, and her two nurses couldn’t understand why."

I was exactly like those 2 nurses. Until I found the true reason.

She dedicated her life to understanding the emerging cinema…From the Arab world, Iran, and Latin America. She engaged with the people of those regions, with their culture and true nature. She knew them well and she formed so many friendships.

But still, it is very hard to receive an email this harsh, yet so delicate. Exactly like her quiet passing, in the foreground of Fairouz’s delicate voice.

Sheila is a friend to everyone, and for the festival we will truly miss her. But one thing is for sure, she is not one of those individuals who you can forget any time soon…or ever!

Masoud Amralla Al Ali

Artistic Director

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