Wed Dec 10,2008

DIFF 2008 Screens Vibrant, Fresh Palestinian Cinema

Before 2005’s Paradise Now rocketed into international consciousness, people could be forgiven for thinking that there was no film coming out of Palestine. However, that was never the case,  and this year’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) proves that Palestinian film is not only very much in evidence, but is innovative and powerful, speaking with a unique voice.

On December 12 at the Dubai Media   City amphitheatre,  Palestinian hip hop comes alive in Slingshot Hip Hop, a debut feature documentary from American-Palestinian filmmaker Jackie Salloum.  The film follows young Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel as they employ Hip Hop as a tool to surmount divisions imposed by occupation and poverty. The film combines performance footage and interviews with the musicians and their fans. Live performances by DAM, Abeer, and PR (Palestinian Rapperz) follow on the massive stage set up for Rhythm n Reels.

Also a feature debut, the Arabian Nights gala film is not only a powerful story in its own right, but a miracle of production logistics, having been filmed in the Occupied Territories with a largely Palestinian crew. Al Mor Wa Al Rumman (Pomegranates and Myrrh) is a World Premiere from Palestinian director Najwa Najjar, set in Ramallah, where free spirited dancer Kamar’s husband is imprisoned. Alone, Kamar returns to the only place where she can be free—the stage. There she meets Kais.  Sparks fly, creating more than a passionate, emotional dance for both of them. This tender, brilliant film stars Yasmine al Masri (Caramel), Ali Suleiman and Hiam Abbass (both of Paradise Now).

Also a feature debut, Milh Hadha al Bahr (Salt of This Sea) is a dramatic thriller by Annemarie Jacir. Soraya is a Brooklyn-born Palestinian who returns to her homeland to reclaim her grandfather’s estate. Disillusioned by the harsh reality of life in the occupied territories, she teams up with a young Palestinian, Emad. As they struggle to realise their dreams, their frustration grows, and they decide to take matters into their own hands.

Three documentaries explore Palestine past and present; Vietato Sognare (Forbidden Childhood) deals with the impact of conflict on young people. Ali Abu Awwad, a former resistance fighter, and Elik El-Hanan, an Israeli ex soldier, are both now peace activists, and each relates their experiences of growing up in a militarised society and their desire for peace. Aisha um Najeh’s Thakirat al Sabbar: Hikayat Thalath Qura Falasteenia (Memory Of The Cactus: A Story of Three Palestinian Villages) is an account of three Palestinian villages that were razed in 1967 to make a park for Israelis. Abdelsalam Shehada’s Ela Aby (To My Father) is a deeply personal film that looks at fifty years of Palestinian history through photographs, reportage and the voices of the photographers today.

Three wonderful shorts also emerge from Palestine: in the hilarious Arafat and I, Marwan is a Palestinian Londoner obsessed with two loves: his fiancée Lisa and former PA Chairman Arafat. How can he reconcile the two? In A Space Exodus, the Palestinian-born multi-media artist Larissa Sansour vividly re-imagines scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, on her mission to become the first Palestinian on the moon.

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