Cinema in the Palestinian Territories has had a difficult history. Until recently lack of resources and political problems have beleaguered Palestinian cinema, culminating in the infamous disappearance of the PLO’s Film Foundation archives in 1982. However, recent decades have seen the film industry blossom in Palestine, producing works that tackle subjects as far reaching as war, rap, identity and love. We look at ten Palestinian films that you must see.
Shot almost entirely by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat 5 Broken Cameras is a documentary that depicts first-hand the protests in Bil’in, a village in the West Bank that was heavily affected by the Israeli West Bank barrier. Co-directed by Israeli-born Guy Davidi and Burnat, the documentary is structured around the stories that the latter captured through his lens. A self-taught cameraman, Burnat bought his first camera in 2005 to mark the birth of his youngest son. The life of this machine, and the four subsequent cameras bought in to replace each predecessor, form the basis of the documentary, as it follows Burnat’s family through five cameras and five subsequent years of strife under Occupation. The film is a powerful homage to the act of cinematic preservation, to the medium of film and its role in modern Palestine.
American-born, but from Palestinian and Syrian descent, Jackie Reem Salloum’s documentary Slingshot Hiphop is the first feature length film to delve into the intriguing sub-culture of Palestinian Hip-Hop. Featured at the Sundance Film Festival the multi-award-winning documentary follows a collection of Arabic rappers living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel. The artists under occupation express their views on ‘internal checkpoints and Separation Walls to gender norms and generational differences’, conveying uniquely Palestinian experiences through the ever popular medium of rap.
Directed by prominent Arab actor Mohammed Bakri Jenin, Jenin is a film intended to reveal what Bakri calls the Palestinian truth about the Jenin Massacre of 2002. Violent clashes occurred between the Israeli army and Palestinian civilians living in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank during the April of that year with allegations of terrorism being thrown from each side. The film follows little to no narrative, the 54-minute-long documentary being made up of a series of first-hand accounts of the violence. This rawness of concept and execution however is a powerful choice on Bakri’s part and the Shoah-esque simplicity of the documentary is a testament to the power of the testimonies it presents.
Directed by Brazilian born Julia Bacha, but co-produced by Palestinian journalist Rula Salameh, Budrus is a feature length documentary film about the small village of Budrus in the Occupied Territories. The film documents the attempts of Palestinian village leader, Ayed Morrar, in bringing together politically opposed members of his community in order to save their home from being torn down for the Israeli Separation Barrier. The film does not attempt to present a wistful ideal of peace, but rather more celebrates the success for the villagers of Budrus on a tangible level, a win that was achieved through an organized, unified and non-violent Palestinian movement.
Paradise Now is a feature length fictional film by Israeli-born Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad. It is the story of two Palestinian men, Said and Khaled, who have been recruited by a Palestinian organisation to carry out suicide attacks in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. The film follows the two men, friends from childhood, through what would be their last days as they build themselves up to their deaths. The film raises politically charged questions regarding the relationship between Israel and Palestine, it questions the roles of the perpetrator and victim and assigns a very human face to the term ‘terrorist’.
Like Twenty Impossibles is a momentous film in Palestinian terms for a number of reasons. It was the first ever Palestinian short film to be shown at the Cannes International Film Festival, with its director, Annemarie Jacir, being the first female Palestinian film director to walk the red carpet. It has won over 15 awards and is hailed as the seminal work of its critically-acclaimed director. The film tracks the journey of a fictional Palestinian film crew as they attempt to gather footage from across the Territories. Juxtaposing shots depicting the serenity of the Palestinian landscape with innumerable examples of military presence Like Twenty Impossibles gets to the very core of the harsh, and very mundane, reality of Occupation.
Amreeka is a fictional film documenting the story of the divorced Palestinian Christian Muna Farah, and her son Fadi, following their immigration from the Palestinian Territories to Illinois, America. Though undeniably heart-warming, and at times wickedly funny, the film highlights the difficulties of living as a Middle Eastern immigrant in a country still reeling from the impact of 9/11. Dabis’ film tackles issues of race, religion and gender through the stoic and immensely likable Muna, making the concept of cross-cultural immigration universally relevant, with heartfelt humor and sincerity.
Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, which can only be described as a black comedy with surrealist overtones, is comprised of a series of sketches that form an overriding, if not slightly bizarre narrative. The film very roughly follows a day in the life of a Palestinian man from Nazareth, and his relationship with a girl from the city of Ramallah, which is situated in the West Bank, several military checkpoints away. The film contains very little dialogue, instead focusing on the actions and physical behavior of its characters, the interactions between those who meet in a slow-paced, ever-deliberate context. Through distorting and fragmenting the reality in which his characters live Suleiman perfectly embodies the confusion and complexity of the Palestinian social landscape.
The earliest film on our list, Wedding in Galilee, was filmed before the intifada, the Palestinian uprising which began in the year of the film’s release. In it a Palestinian father attempts to gain permission from Israeli military authorities to hold an elaborate wedding for his son, an event which is agreed only under the condition that the local Israeli military officers are invited. The film highlights the tensions between the two sets of wedding guests, the problems that occur when conflicting groups are brought together, but most of all the glimmer of hope that there is for compromise and unity between them. Wedding in Galilee was one of the first films which dismissed the established tropes of the Arab-Israeli conflict; that of the violent, impulsive Arab versus the peace loving Israeli. Khleifi instead highlights the problems of presenting people in polar opposites, focusing on the very human complexity of this age old struggle.
Another from the director of Like Twenty Impossibles is the feature length film When I Saw You. Based in 1967 When I Saw You is the story of 11-year-old Tarek, who, due to the chaos of war, has been forced to flee his home in the Palestinian Territories to neighboring Jordan. Separated from his father Tarek strives to escape the ‘temporary’ refugee camps to find his dad, and through this acquires a unique set of friends to travel his path with. The film is an optimistic look at the power of the human spirit, working against adversity in order to attain freedom. The film was created using exclusively Palestinian funding and producers, a deliberate attempt by Jacir to show the power of the Palestinian film industry without outside influence.