Friday 28 December 2012

Fighting for freedom and film: The Bristol Palestine Film Festival

Following requests, below is the talk I gave at the opening of the 2012 Bristol Palestine Film Festival.

We’re living in revolutionary and unstable times, full of promise and risk, energy, rupture and antagonism. Citizens across the Middle East are demanding the building blocks of fair and peaceful states: stability, freedom, justice; the integrity of government; working national structures and infrastructures; independent, reliable and efficient institutions; high quality national education and healthcare for all; liberation from reactionary dogma, doctrine and dictatorship;  opportunity, democracy, equality and liberty. These issues are no less pertinent here today as we celebrate the culture and resistance of Palestinians not only in Gaza and the West Bank but further out, in the Palestinian diaspora.

Yet revolutions are not defined by marches, protests, fighting and demonstrations alone. No revolution is truly powerful unless it is also creative, uplifting, collective and lasting; and the most profound revolutions affect every part of society. In this way, we use all of the potential of people – not only to resist and react, not only to challenge and confront, not only to defend and fight but also to create, to transform and to promise a better future for all. This year’s festival and its debates are more serious and urgent that ever before, because of recent political and military events [in Gaza]. However, the festival is not just about activism or political identity but about the great wealth of creative talent which deserves to be seen by the world and can in its turn shed light on life everywhere in the world. Great art has universal application even though it comes from a specific context.

At this year’s festival you will find a great variety of film work from and about Palestine. For those wishing to understand the reality of living in constant confrontation with the army, the separation wall and the cruelty and daily caprice of military occupation, combined with the concerted encroachment on and sabotage of historic and valuable olive groves, there are three gritty, important and unflinching films: The Colour of Olives (dir. Carolina Rivas and Daoud Sarhandi), 5 Broken Cameras (dir. Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi) and They Came in the Morning, directed by Leila Sansour. Yet Palestinian film is not defined by victimisation. In Yala to the Moon, directed by Suhel Nafar and Jacqueline Reem Salloum, a woman recreates her world using the gifts of her imagination. And Habibi, a wonderful film directed by Susan Youssef, is a Gaza-set story about forbidden love, defiance, graffiti and urban love poetry. It won the Best Arab Feature award at the 2011 8th Dubai International Film Festival and the honour was richly deserved. Other films in the festival tackle universal themes of human behaviour and of how we choose to react to events. In The Choice, directed by Yasin Erik Bognar, a father and daughter in Ramallah express grief in different ways. And in Sameh Zoabi’s comedy drama Man Without A Cellphone, a cocky young playboy has to grow up and step up in the fight against a nearby cellphone tower which might be leaking radiation.

These are just a sample of the diversity of work being produced by Palestinian directors or representing life in Palestine. Palestine is not just a ‘cause’ to be taken up, a site of suffering or a fashionable issue in which people show ‘tremendous human resilience, courage and spirit’ and are full of ‘warmth, humanity and hospitality’ despite their ‘plight’. Palestine is not a racial or cultural cliché to be explored and exploited, patronised and stereotyped, but a rich society of individuals who love everything from film, art, performance and literature to freedom, truth and justice ...which are all related and are for everyone, by everyone, without prejudice.