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Directors Introduction 2014

By November 5, 2014September 4th, 2018Uncategorized

When the Bristol Palestine Film Festival began four years ago, I never would have imagined it lasting four years. Yet, here we are for a forth season of Palestinian film, and films on Palestine. In each of the previous years, the festival had been accentuated by events in the real world. In 2014,  alongside many others, I am still reeling from the horrific bombardment of Gaza that left over 2,000 causalities (the UN estimates 1,462 were Palestinian civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women and 73 Israeli citizens of whom 66 were soldiers and 7 civilians).

It seems fitting therefore that the opening night at the Watershed should focus on Gaza. We begin with Nahed Awwad’s Gaza Calling, a 2012 documentary that illustrates life for Gaza’s people in-between bombardments. Not surprisingly, films about the recent events in Gaza are rare and difficult to find. Prior to the most recent conflict, I was in touch with filmmaker Wael Alsousi about his short Gaza in 1920s. Between June and September, all contact with Wael was lost until finally he wrote back: “I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch with you.  At that time was really busy and then the war happened and I got lost there”. To complete this set we will be screening Shuja’iyah: Land of the Brave by Hadeel Assali. The film overlays images of the director’s family in Gaza with a recording made on a “zello” call during the early stages of the most recent bombings.

As with all seasons, the festival does not stay in the same place for long. On Saturday we focus on Palestinian refugees living in Syria, we are also screening Abeer Zeibak Haddad’s ‘Duma’, which tells the stories of four Palestinian women who have broken their silence about their experiences of sexual violence. It is among the only films ever made about sexual abuse against women in Arab society. In a film review for Tsaloniki Film Festival, film critic Qais Qassem observes, “Duma indicates a new tendency in Palestinian cinema towards moving to self-display and criticism, which first started emerging in features with Elia Suleiman’s films and appears to be gaining ground.” The film was selected as it met our aims of profiling the work of Palestinian directors, it highlights an important human-rights issue, and finally because it would bring a new audience into the festival.

Sunday represents a change of pace again. Saken is amongst the most beautiful and intimate documentaries that I have seen for a long, long time. The film is screening in the UK for the first time, capturing the reflections of Ibrahim Salameh who was paralyzed while fighting for Palestinian liberation in the 1980s. The film portrays his relationship with his caretaker Walid, explores dependency and trust, and is a real gem for any audience over the world.

There are a number of new elements to this year’s festival. I’m particularly grateful this year for the support of Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, she has been incredibly supportive and helpful in suggesting some of the latest works and films. Annemarie has also been working with us on a season exploring the ‘impact of conflict’ on cinematic narratives. The season should be launched at Borderlines Film Festival in early 2015, but several of the films in our festival act as a preview to that event. This includes Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar and Annemarie Jacir’s Salt of this Sea. Our opening night at the Cube on the 3rd December where we will be screening Cinema Palestine by Tim Schwab is a great opportunity to get more familiar with some of the classic films we will be exploring in this season.

As I finish writing this introduction, the media’s reportage is now focused on an horrific attack in a synagogue, and the ongoing and systematic persecutions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. In such a landscape, where it is difficult to make sense of what is really going on, it is so easy to switch our attention elsewhere. My number one hope for the Film Festival is that it generates understanding, and reduces otherness, irrespective of your political opinions from the outset. I would like the festival to attract more people, for whom Palestine is just too difficult, or is an off-limit topic. I’m excited about the potential of the festival to inspire people of all ages, and to help people think about the issues raised in the films, many of which are universal, some of which are pressing and urgent.

As a final note we are also delighted to be working with Easton’s very own community cinema for a season of documentaries. Being from Easton myself, it was quite a surprise to learn that we had a community cinema, and I’m delighted that BristolPFF will be one of the first events to use this important space. People looking to attend these screenings need to head towards All Hollows Hall, I will post details online soon, and ask Pete the manager to put up some signage for you all.

I would like to end by thanking our funders Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust ( and the 44 backers who helped us raise £1055.00 earlier in the year. Our sponsors, which include the Bristol Sweet Mart, Sidcott School Centre for Peace and Global Studies, Unite Union and Bradford Friends of Palestine, our Advisory Board and all the volunteers and friends who have supported the festival this year and since 2011.

David Owen, 2014

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