USC Students for Justice in Palestine

history, analysis, news, and event updates on the struggle for justice in palestine

EI: Coming Home–Palestinian Cinema

Posted by uscsjp on March 6, 2007

Annemarie Jacir, The Electronic Intifada, 27 February 2007


They Do Not Exist has its premiere in Palestine in 2003 (Image courtesy of Annemarie Jacir)


In the late 1960s, a group of young Arab women and men devoted to the struggle for Palestinian freedom chose to contribute to the resistance through filmmaking — recording their lives, hopes, and their fight for justice. Working in both fiction and documentary, they strived to tell the stories of Palestine and to create a new kind of cinema.

These filmmakers included founders Mustafa Abu Ali, Sulafa Jadallah, and Hani Jawhariya. Others were Khadija Abu Ali, Ismael Shammout, Rafiq Hijjar, Nabiha Lutfi, Fuad Zentut, Jean Chamoun and Samir Nimr. Most were refugees, exiled from their homes in Palestine. And additionally there were fellow Arabs who stood in solidarity with them, devoting their work to a just cause. Their films screened across the Arab world and internationally but never in Palestine. None of the filmmakers were allowed into Palestine, or what became known as Israel, let alone their celluloid prints…

In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and the Palestinian film archives disappeared, along with the rest of the PLO’s cultural heritage collections. Al-Zubaidi had actively searched for the lost film for many years and managed to locate a few — of which he now maintains in an archive in Berlin. The archive of Palestinian film in Beirut “went missing in 1982. Some say it was destroyed, others that the films were taken by the Israeli army and may still be in existence,” he says. Al-Zubaidi generously supplied the films to us for the premiere screening in Palestine…

Based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novel and funded entirely with Palestinian money (collected by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), the film Return to Haifa is often cited as “the first Palestinian fiction film”, despite the fact that the director is not actually Palestinian. In the north of Lebanon, the Palestinians living in the refugee camps provided “the capital, aid and enthusiasm” for the film project. Three months before beginning the filming in the Tripoli region, the production team launched a wide awareness campaign in the camps of Nahr el Bared and Al Bedawi. Meetings were held in squares, workplaces, and even in the mosques after Friday prayers. For the exodus scene alone, which opens the film, they had 3,000 to 4,000 extras of all ages, hundreds of items of period dress (Palestinians from the camps brought out their old clothes), old cars, and dozens of fishing boats (Lebanese fishermen lent their boats for the day). On the morning of 23 August 1981, all this was ready, and “as if by a miracle the film set on the port of Tripoli came to resemble that of Haifa in 1948″…

Seeing the films in Jerusalem was something he “never thought could happen.” Mustafa Abu Ali, now sixty-three years old, had entered his own city, illegally but with pride. As for Kassem Hawal, like so many others, he cannot enter Palestine, but his film did — a film that chronicles a return to a city in a country that was once open, based on a book by an exiled Palestinian writer who was never allowed to return home. The significance of watching Return to Haifa was not lost on the Jerusalem audience — in a city where our books had been banned, our theaters closed, and still choking under military occupation, the mood in the theater that night was extraordinary. More than thirty years after their production, we managed to publicly screen two of the most important films of the Palestinian resistance cinema for the first time in Palestine — the films had finally come home. (full article)

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