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Independent film in Palestine
curated by Lara Khaldi & Yazan Khalili

Still from 'Like Twenty Impossibles' by Annemarie Jacir

Wed 28th April, 7pm, FREE
316-318 Bethnal Green Road
Wed 28th April, 7pm

The Last Station by Ghada Terawi
7 min | 2007

The Diver by Jumana Emil Abboud
4 min | 2004

The Shooter by Ihab Jadallah
8 min | 2008

Like Twenty Impossibles by Annemarie Jacir
17 min | 2003

Arafat and I by Mahdi Fleifel
15 min | 2008

We Began By Measuring Distance by Basma Al-Sharif
19 min | 2009

We would like to begin by “measuring the distance” to where we stand in relation to the programme we “present. ”We have been invited to present / represent Palestinian films by Palestinian filmmakers through a programme, and this leads us to a series of questions about the meanings of representation.

The act of representation is somehow an act of constructing and reconstructing; it carries with it a form of repetition, a redefinition and the making/imagining of an image. But it also carries with it a political tone, in the sense of giving the right “to stand in” the place of others. We do not represent Palestinian films; Palestinian filmmakers do not represent Palestine or Palestinians. Rather, we think that – we/they – could present maps of representations, in a plural but not in an exclusive and collective sense. Our selection showcases films that question and negotiate representation and structures of power that inform the production of images and notions about Palestinians.

These films have an element of self-reflection, and criticism of the socio-political borders that make up the category of “Palestinian”, but most importantly, they are films that are constantly conscious of being representations.

The focus on the autobiographical in recent years in Palestinian cinema and art could be read as an attempt to remake an image not only in relation to the influence that media holds on it, but as a repositioning, a distancing that produces difference, and an exploration into how to “represent” or – even to go further – how not to represent. Through those short films we pose questions about space, and about how we construct our own maps.

The frames in which these films are taken are all decided, the landscape/map is constructed, it is conscious. They somehow retrace their own maps; reconstruct their own identities. Our question stems from a larger project in which we started thinking about mapping Palestinian cinema. We tried to do it spatially, chronologically, by genre… But in the end we have decided to leave this question for the films themselves. We chose films that attempt to recreate themselves, filmmakers that are constantly conscious and constantly correcting themselves and comparing themselves against an imagined landscape. They measure distances; they shoot against their wishes, dive, and dig deep, retracing maps and landscapes.


About the Curator: Lara Khaldi

Lara Khaldi was born in Jerusalem 1982. She received her B.A in Archaeology and Art History with a minor in English literature in 2005. She is currently assistant director at the Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE. Khaldi worked as the artist coordinator for the Sharjah Biennial 8 (2007) and as co-editor and publications manager for the Sharjah Biennial 9 publications. She has Co-curated the exhibition PALESTINA: tierra, exilio, Creacion: Reconsidering Palestinian Art, Fundacion Antonio Perez, Cuenca, Spain 2006. Khaldi also worked as assistant director at Al Riwaq Art Gallery in Bahrain in 2007. She was Assistant curator for the exhibition “Never Part”, Bozar, Brussels, 2007. She was assistant curator for the exhibition “Disorientation II” at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi in Nov. 2009. And has recently co-curated the film programme “We are Never Heros” at Al Ma’mal Foundation in Jerusalem during the 2nd Jerusalem show “On the Gates of Heaven”, Sept. 2009.


About the Curator Yazan Khalili

Yazan Khalili was born in 1981 in Syria. He is a Palestinian currently studying in London. Khalili received a degree in architecture from Birzeit University in 2003, and is beginning an MA in the Research Architecture programme at Goldsmiths, London. His photography explores the relationship between the social and spatial elements of “built-environments.” He was one of the founding members of Zan Design Studio (2005) and one of the finalists in the A. M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Artists Award in 2006. Khalili was an artist-in-residence at the Delfina Foundation in London in 2008. Solo shows include Urban Impression exhibited at French Cultural Centres around Palestine, (2007/08); Margins, Delfina Foundation, London (2008). Selected group shows include Invisible, Ramallah, Amman and Rome (2006/07); No Man’s Land, Video Art, Granada, (2008); Mapping, Art Dubai, UAE (2009). He was also one of the participants in Sandi Hilal and Allesandro Petti’s Ramallah Syndrome project in the Palestine c/o Venice Pavilion at the 53 Venice Biennale, 2009. His work has recently been acquired by the British Museum and he is currently finishing his photography book The Landscape of Light and Darkness.


Independence of Cinema/ Cinema of Independence

The question of what an independent cinema in Palestine means is somewhat different from the same question in other places. A mainstream cinema industry does not exist for there to be an independent one, but this question is intricately tied in with other aspects of “independence.” Rather, “independent Palestinian cinema” conjures up the Palestinian occupation with the overall Palestinian search for independence as a political project.

In other words, cinema of independence is not an independent cinema. It takes its authenticity from being related to a political project, its identity, and in a way its Palestinianity.

But isn’t this always the case with art productions that are coming from colonial and even post-colonial areas? What makes the Palestinian one special?

In our opinion, the Palestinian film scene has become one of the spaces that Palestinians use to approach the world in their search for recognition, visibility and freedom.

In 1967 the PLO founded a film unit that funded and produced films directly by and for the “people” and “the cause.” It came after the diaspora of 1967 when a uniting force was needed. Palestinians were dispersed and films presented a chance to unite. But it was a pseudo representation of unity, as there was a confusion of representation with the agenda to represent the revolutionary in the camps. The PLO funded films as a medium for its manifestations and for propaganda. The Palestinian political factions also collaborated on film projects with other revolutionaries; a film made by the PFLP and the Red Army Faction made in 1971, Declaration of World War, probably describes the spirit best:

“But in your question of what I think of my being seen as a star hero of hijacking, you added that I do not see myself as a hero. To hear someone speak of me that way, I feel very happy. But in any case we do not talk of ourselves as individuals. It is because revolution is always born of people, for people, and because it is not meant for general humanity. That is why, being among the whole, individual is not of much significance. And I am very very happy to hear you say that I am not hero. The reason is that I never heard anyone speak like this before, and I think that to become a hero in the midst of revolutionary Palestinians and proletariats waging a war means that that person is simply doing his or her duty, not as some sort of hobby. In my case, my duty not only involves hijacking, but is something which with death always accompanies my life. Therefore, I will reply to those people who see us as heroes, that we are never heroes, that we are not fighting this war as our hobby, and that we are simply doing our duty, and I like to insist that we dedicate ourselves to revolution, and that our lives are for revolution, not for being seen as heroes.”.

But in the 1980s and onwards, Palestinian cinema became more independent from political factions. Higher budgets, the education of new Palestinian filmmakers in Western schools, and the rediscovery by the West of the Palestinian issue (especially after the first intifada) made Palestinian cinema commercially attractive – that is, a cinema that can generate profit for its producers. The Palestinian issue and its association with the mass media made Palestinian cinema accessible for the international market, which encouraged producers to invest in it. Of course other sources of funding come through foreign aid agencies with their political agendas, who co-opt the propaganda film styles produced by the PLO factions. These foreign funded films are mainly short and long documentaries and some short fictional films, mostly produced within the framework of workshops or for screening purposes in specific contexts.

There is no Palestinian feature film industry to speak of – and we are referring here to cinema production in the West Bank and Gaza – at least one that can generate a socio economy around it, allowing people to depend on this industry for sustainability. Most of the production teams work in various areas of media and TV.

Most actors have a background in theatre, while equipment, from cameras and lights to sound and sometimes even makeup, have to brought in from abroad, or sometimes – ironically – rented from Israel. As for the crew, most of the main positions are also imported, such as directors of photography, sound, art, etc. This dependency of so-called independent Palestinian cinema on foreign human resources, funding/investment, and equipment problematises independency.

Then is there an independent Palestinian cinema?
Independence is in and of itself a relative term which depends on space, the public and politics. Cinema can be independent to a certain extent, meaning that independent cinema has become a category created in countries with a large mainstream industry, with films that touch on issues outside the common political agenda, and that have been produced and screened outside the designated commercial spaces – cinema theatres, television, VHS and DVDs. This category has also been projected onto the third world cinema, particularly from politically conflicted areas, and of course Palestine is one of them.

Within this context, Palestinian cinema can maintain its indulgence in the general political situation in Palestine, representing it and being represented by it, being dependent on it and trying to be independent from it. It criticises and proposes different political agendas through narrative, visual aesthetics, locations and ways of presenting the characters, as Ihab Jadallah aptly titles this “post-utopian cinema.”

In the 1990s and with the Oslo Agreement there came some NGO funding for experiments with cinema. Political factions were less and less implicated in the production of images through film, being increasingly involved in their production through television and in the media – chasing and being chased by stereotypes. Cinema on the other hand began to establish its political and artistic autonomy, generating a more personal perspective of the conflict and ways to deal with it, becoming a cinema that is trying to liberate itself from the general political discourse, from heroism and victimhood. In reformulating its means of production and notions of Palestine, new “Palestines” emerged, non-geographical and mainly non-representative, but nonetheless adding up to a problematic one, a more critical one, and in a way, a more progressive one.

New kinds of experimental, low budget, avant-garde cinema began to emerge on the margins of feature films. Young filmmakers, and crewmembers working in feature film production began to experiment as the tools and means of production became accessible. Short films and video art became a means of expression away from the mainstream media, tackling issues that don’t necessarily interest the funders or that are not profit-driven and contingent upon market forces. Filmmakers began to diversify and develop their portfolios so that they could present these films, which focus on the vision, narrative and style of the filmmaker, to producers and funders. These productions represent to a certain extent an independent cinema and the rhetorics of an independent Palestine.


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