Toronto Palestine Film Festival opens on 28 September - some highlights

This year’s Toronto Palestine Film Festival, opening on Saturday, boasts a number of must-see films and lectures, including a talk with the widely celebrated contemporary artist Emily Jacir on Thursday, 3 October.

Omar Robert Hamilton, filmmaker and producer of the Palestine Festival of Literature, and Udi Aloni, an artist and filmmaker who has worked with the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp, will speak on the role of film, video, art and theater in the Arab uprisings and Palestinian resistance on Sunday, 29 September.

A cloud hangs over the festival as board member John Greyson remains in Egyptian prison along with Dr. Tarek Loubani; the pair have announced a hunger strike to protest their arbitrary detention without charge since 16 August. The Toronto Palestine Film Festival issued the following statement on 17 September:

TPFF is extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of our board member John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani. We are deeply saddened that their arbitrary detention without charges was extended for another 15 days. We stand in solidarity with them and their decision to partake in a hunger strike to protest their mistreatment.  We join their family, friends and supporters in demanding their immediate release from Egypt.

The week-long festival opens with Annemarie Jacir’s award-winning and hopeful feature film When I Saw You, set in Jordan in 1967 in the wake of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the second mass expulsion of Palestinians. Jacir, who I interviewed for The Electronic Intifada earlier this year, will address the audience via Skype.

A total of 24 new films — indicating the wealth of contemporary Palestinian filmmaking and films about Palestine — will be screened during the festival, including:

  • Picasso in Palestine, a documentary by Khaled Hourani with Rashid Masharawi (Laila’s Birthday) on the challenges faced when bringing the legendary Spanish great’s “Buste de Femme” to Palestine
  • The documentary Art/Violence, which focuses on The Freedom Theatre’s struggle to carry on its mission after the murder of its director Juliano Mer-Khamis in Jenin refugee camp in 2011 (co-director Udi Aloni will be in attendance)
  • Suha Araj’s short comedy The Cup Reader (the director will be in attendance)
  • Nahed Awwad’s documentary Gaza Calling, on how Israel’s fragmenting of Palestinian territory and its restrictive system of IDs and permits fractures Palestinian families (the film is inspired by the director’s own experiences)
  • Larissa Sansour’s witty, highly stylized sci-fi short Nation Estate, which imagines a Palestinian state in the form of a skyscraper
  • Khaled Jarrar’s experimental documentary Infiltrators, which follows Palestinian workers who circumvent Israel’s wall in the West Bank to seek work in Israel, described by The Electronic Intifada reviewer Sarah Irving as “raw and truthful”
  • Omar Robert Hamilton’s short feature Though I Know the River is Dry, starring Kais Nashif (Paradise Now), with the director in attendance
  • The Great Book Robbery, a documentary examining the seizure of public and private Palestinian libraries during and after the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine (Blair Kuntz with Librarians and Archivists to Palestine will be a guest speaker at the screening)
  • The North American premiere of Jumana Manna’s short A Sketch of Manners (Alfred Roch’s Last Masquerade), which won the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year Award
  • They Were Promised the Sea, Kathy Wazana’s “part historical investigation, part poetic/musical essay,” according to the festival’s description, on the emigration of Morocco’s Jewish community to Israel in the 1960s (the director will be in attendance)
  • The Shebabs of Yarmouk, a documentary about third-generation Palestinian refugees living in the Damascus camp, a theme of particular resonance as Yarmouk has become an arena of fighting in the Syrian civil war
  • Zinco, Serene Al Ahmad’s short documentary on al-Talbieh refugee camp in Jordan (the director will be in attendance)
  • Alaa al-Ali’s poetic short A Letter to Ahmad, filmed in a refugee camp in Lebanon
  • Carol Mansour’s 40-minute documentary We Want to Know, which “brings to light astounding stories of daily life during the civil war” in Lebanon
  • Mahdi Fleifel’s debut documentary feature A World Not Ours, which offers a deeply personal look at the lives of the filmmaker’s family and friends in Ein al-Hilwe refugee camp in Lebanon

For the full schedule of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival, visit tpff.ca.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.