Three years ago, a group of movie enthusiasts formed a Palestinian cinema club in Haifa and Jaffa, two Palestinian cities in present-day Israel. Known as Palestinema, the club decided to offer the public in Israel the possibility of watching Arab films once every two weeks. It was also intended to enable networking between Palestinian filmmakers in Israel.
The project is unapologetically political in nature. “We want to make a change,” said Sameer Zoabi, a Haifa-based script writer who is one of the founders of Palestinema. “We are a group of Arab filmmakers who learn from our history, know our present and hope for a better future.”
Working in cooperation with al-Midan, a theater in Haifa, and al-Sarayah, a theater in Jaffa, the club varies the themes of its programs according to events and symbolic days held or celebrated during any given month.
Plugging a gap
Offering a cultural contribution to the Palestinian community in Israel, Palestinema introduces people to films with a variety of social, political and controversial perspectives. The films are then discussed and analyzed amongst filmmakers and community members. The majority of these films are not easily accessible and require special approval by filmmakers to be screened in Israel.
Since Palestinians in Israel have few opportunities to see films made in neighboring Arab countries, Palestinema aims to plug that gap. When directors of the movies live abroad in Arab or European countries, discussions are organized with them — using Skype — at the end of screenings.
Additionally, one of Palestinema’s major achievements has been to form Arab cinema screening halls in two major Jewish cities which otherwise lacked any Arab theaters.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, a number of films focused on Palestinian women were shown around that time. These included May Odeh’s documentary Diaries, a portrayal of three young women living in Gaza shedding light on an aspect of life in Gaza rarely captured on film.
Another movie shown in March, The Kingdom of Women: Ein El Hilweh by Dahna Abourahme, tells the story of women’s resistance in the Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon following the Israeli army’s invasion in 1982. And the Egyptian movie 678 by Muhammad Diab deals with sexual harassment.
During the month of May, Palestinama held a series of screenings to mark the anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe), the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine ahead of Israel’s establishment in 1948.
My Land by the Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch presented the stories of two generations of Palestinian refugees, interwoven with interviews with Jewish Israelis living on the lands from which these refugees were expelled. By examining the ongoing battle over land, it underscores that the Nakba never ceased.
“I wanted to make a film about memory,” Ayouch narrates in the introduction of his film. “The memory of a land. A memory that has been arrested on one side as though time had stopped. A memory forgotten, or never learned, on the other side.”
Palestinema also screened My Father From Haifa, a film by Omar Sharqawi which recalls how the filmmaker’s father had to flee Haifa in 1948 when he was was just eight years old. His father wandered the world before ending up in Denmark. The documentary tackles the trauma of the Nakba as the director takes a trip through the cities of his father’s past.
Forming a network of Palestinian filmmakers
Palestinema is an educational resource for Palestinian filmmakers in Israel, as well as the community in general.
“It all started three years ago in Jaffa and Haifa, when we felt the need to form a network of communication among Arab filmmakers in Israel,” one of its founders, filmmaker Riyad Shammas, told The Electronic Intifada. “We want to adopt the young filmmakers and the new graduates, address their needs and obstacles in the film industry, and put them in touch with motivated individuals. We also aim to provide a network between filmmakers inside the local Arab community and Arabic film institutions.”
Forming a network for Palestinian filmmakers in Israel to communicate is not an easy task to accomplish, as resources are scarce. However, Palestinema’s organizers have succeeded in providing the new generation of filmmakers mentorship and guidance, and an opportunity to unite and share their experiences.
“Our group is working now on finding contributors to help develop this project,” Shammas said. “Palestinema members are also working to achieve film productions by the group itself.”
Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa-Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.