The festival opens with The Idol, a new feature by Hany Abu-Assad (Omar, Paradise Now) based on the true story of Mohammad Assaf, the Gaza-born singer who hurtled to fame on the talent show Arab Idol.
As Selma Dabbagh comments in her review for The Electronic Intifada, “Assaf managed to unite Palestinians in joy. He quickly became a phenomenon, illuminating the potential for art to connect people where politics has failed.”
Dabbagh adds that “Unlike Abu-Assad’s [previous] feature films, there is an undeniable feel-good quality to the ending,” but at the same time The Idol is “a film that cuts to the core.”
Gaza is also the setting for Tarzan and Arab Nasser’s Degradé, another festival selection, which focuses on a group of women who become imprisoned in a beauty salon as battles erupt in the street.
And a women’s racing car team in the West Bank are the subject of Amber Fares’ documentary Speed Sisters.
As Sarah Irving describes in her review for The Electronic Intifada:
“This gutsy, moving, exciting and deeply personal film follows the Palestinian women’s rally-car racing team through two seasons of hopes and heartbreak, love and rivalry, punctuated by scenes of cars screeching and skidding to pounding rock, metal and hip-hop soundtracks.”
Meanwhile, Mai Masri’s 3,000 Nights – the acclaimed documentary filmmaker’s first feature – is set in an Israeli women’s prison.
It centers around the story of Layal (performed by Maisa Abd Elhadi, who also stars in Degradé), who is dragged out of bed by soldiers and ends up in prison, not knowing that she is pregnant.
Dabbagh says of 3,000 Nights in her review for The Electronic Intifada:
“Part of the role of artists who focus on Palestinian stories is to bear witness and reclaim history. In this context, 3000 Nights is extremely powerful. It focuses on those frequently ignored segments of society: women and children, statistically impacted most severely by war, poverty, dispossession and occupation.”
Struggle for survival
The struggle for survival is also the theme of On the Bride’s Side, a documentary which follows five refugees who make their way from Syria to Europe.
The Electronic Intifada reviewer Sarah Irving says of On the Bride’s Side:
“This is a deeply political documentary film. Its criticism of world governments for failing to deal with an emergency largely precipitated by ill-informed Western interference in the Middle East is implicit but strong. Yet it is not didactic or dull. It is a profoundly human film, full of love, laughter, poetry and wine. Its beautiful use of color and imagery makes its message all the more heartfelt.”
The festival will also be screening Oriented, in which three gay Palestinian friends grapple with the contradictions in their lives.
Short films being screened this year include Basil Khalil’s Oscar-nominated Ave Maria; Ramzi Maqdisi’s Solomon’s Stone; Anna Fahr’s Transit Game; Philip Joa and Theo Krish’s Epicly Palestine’d: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank; Larissa Sansour and Soren Lind’s In the Future they Ate from the Finest Porcelain and Amr Kawji’s Detained Dreams, which focuses on four Palestinian children held in Israeli detention.
For more information, visit the Chicago Palestine Film Festival website.