Palestinian cinema thrives in London despite festival demise

This summer sees an exciting line-up for London-based aficionados of Palestinian cinema.

Despite the disappointing news earlier this year that the London Palestine Film Festival has been “indefinitely suspended,” screenings at the East End Film Festival and the Shubbak festival of Arabic arts look set to fill at least some of the gap.

The East End festival offers the UK premiere of Hind Shoufani’s film Trip Along Exodus which is based on the life of her father Elias.

Expelled by Zionist forces from the Galilee region of Palestine in 1948, Elias Shoufani went on to study at the US university of Princeton, write more than 25 books, and participate in armed resistance against Israel. Elias, who died in 2013, also became a trenchant critic of the Palestine Liberation Organization, particularly over its support for a two-state solution. 

Trip Along Exodus is accompanied by a short film which tackles a different aspect of Palestinian displacement.

From Shoufani’s portrayal of a life in exile, Danielle Schwartz’s Mirror Image focuses on the places from which people like Elias Shoufani were forced out, and the denial in Israeli society about the country’s past.

As well as this important pairing, the East End Film Festival offers UK audiences another chance to see Love, Theft and other Entanglements, a Palestinian thriller which received its British premiere in Edinburgh last month.

Later in the summer, this year’s Shubbak festival of Arabic culture and arts has a film section largely devoted to the works of Palestinian film director Michel Khleifi.

Films by Khleifi dating back to the 1980s will receive rare screenings alongside his newer works,

Although the strong showing at the East End Film Festival and at Shubbak is encouraging, taking works to audiences who might not have visited a specifically “Palestinian” event, it does, however, threaten to detach Palestinian cinema and the issues surrounding it from their political context.


The vibrant line-up of Palestinian cinema in London this summer comes despite the surprising and somewhat mysterious suspension of the London Palestine Film Festival which, with its program of talks, exhibitions and panels, was able to place the films in a broader context.

The festival, which started out in 1998 as a student venture at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), issued a statement in late May announcing that “After 17 editions of the London Palestine Film Festival, the Palestine Film Foundation has announced that from 2015 it is suspending production of the annual film festival indefinitely.”

According to the statement, the goal of achieving enough funding to run the festival “at the standard deemed necessary” has “continued to elude the organization.”

Requests for further information from the festival organizers and from its main cash funders, the Munib Masri Foundation — named after a wealthy Palestinian entrepreneur – and international civil engineering and construction firm Consolidated Contractors, did not receive any response.

Non-cash partner the Barbican, the major London arts center which has hosted most of the festival’s films, panels and associated events since 2005, has been more forthcoming — although not about who might have been responsible for the dried-up funds.

Robert Rider, head of cinema at the Barbican, told The Electronic Intifada in an email that “The Barbican has been proud to host the London Palestine Film Festival for the last 10 years and the festival has regularly attracted a large and enthusiastic audience to our cinemas. We’re saddened the Palestinian Film Foundation is unable to run the festival for the foreseeable future but would be delighted to work with the foundation again if the opportunity arose.”

The question therefore seems to be why, at a time when interest in Palestinian culture is at its highest ever — but when the Israeli government also seems to be gearing up for major cultural offensives to try and counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — major financial donors might have seen fit to take their funds elsewhere.


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.