Sheffield’s Cinema Palestino has been held for the past nine years around 29 November, the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. This year, the event has sadly been cancelled because of Covid19. Palestinian films do, however, have a committed following, even though big budget Hollywood films dominate commercial cinema circuits. Less than 3 per cent of films shown in the UK are from the Global South. In this group Palestinian films are at a disadvantage with no state to finance and promote them. Despite this, Palestinian filmmakers have developed a dynamic film culture, turning out a wide range of dramas and documentaries. Many of their most acclaimed films have been screened at the Showroom.
Feature dramas have included When I Saw You (2012 Annmarie Jacir), which explored the world of a young boy living in a refugee camp in 1967 desperate to return home. 3000 Nights (2015, Mai Masri) dramatized the true story of a young Palestinian schoolteacher who is falsely accused and jailed in an Israeli prison, where she gives birth to her son. Innovative documentaries have included Amer Shomali’s The Wanted 18, which tells the true story of a Palestinian village that fought to boycott the Israeli milk industry. Israel issued the villages’cows with an arrest warrant! Shomali was advised to use a documentary style for fear that audiences would otherwise not recognise it as a true story.
In 2017, on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, Kassem Hawwal, a founding figure of Palestinian cinema, participated in theprogramme Reels of Memory. Return to Haifa (1982), tells the story of a Palestinian refugee family who seize the chance to return to their home city. Hawwal, now 80 years old, spoke movingly about the film’s making. For some scenes shot in the Lebanese port of Beirut, Palestinian refugees volunteered to depict their own expulsion from Haifa in 1948, when two-thirds of the Palestinian population were forced out to become refugees in the neighbouring Arab countries. The catastrophe that 1948 represents for Palestinians, was commemorated, in 2018, by a programme of shorts, under the title 70 Years of Nakba.
Palestinian films will be shown between 14 and 28 November, online, as part of this year’s Leeds Palestine Film Festival. Sheffield’s Cinema Palestino will return next year offering the opportunity to see and discuss a wide range of work by up-and-coming talents.
By Anandi Ramamurthy and Paul Kelemen - members of Cinema Palestino and authors of Struggling To Be Seen: The Travails Of Palestinian Cinema
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 26 November 2020.