Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Dreams of a Nation" Celebrates Palestinian Cinema

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Dreams of a Nation" Celebrates Palestinian Cinema

Article excerpt

New Yorkers welcomed actress Hiam Abbas and filmmakers Najwa Najjar and Elia Suleiman to film screenings at various venues on the Columbia University campus from Feb. 2-6. The festival officially launched the university's Dreams of a Nation Palestinian film archive, a collection donated by Columbia Professor Hamid Dabashi.

Speaking opening night about the collection, Dabashi explained that he needed films to teach an early course on Palestine cinema and faced the challenge of finding copies. He thanked film professionals in Israel-Palestine and the diaspora who over the years shared their work with him. Dabashi and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir organized the first Dreams of a Nation film festival at Columbia in 2003, the first in America. "Today," he said, "our festival is one of many national and international tributes to the collective identity of Palestinians, in their unity and their fragmentation." Dabashi encouraged film fans and scholars to use as a resource.

Growing interest in the "great milky way of Palestinian cinema" was also acknowledged by scholar Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia. "In the 1960s when I was studying you couldn't mention the word 'Palestine,'" he recalled. "Last fall we inaugurated the first Center for Palestine Studies in the U.S., and tonight it sponsors this festival."

"A labor of love" is how filmmaker Najjar described her 2009 feature debut, "Pomegranates and Myrrh." "I worked with some of the best talent in Palestine," she said, citing "Yasmine Al Massri, Ashraf Farah, Ali Suleiman, and Hiam Abbas [who was present]. They were very kind under difficult conditions." Set in the West Bank near Ramallah, the film contrasts the freedom of movement of a local dance troupe with life under military occupation. Qamar is torn between a handsome choreographer and her new husband, in prison for striking an Israeli soldier. To Najjar, the character played by Abbas-a loving but tough woman-symbolized Palestine's will to survive, she explained.

Michel Khleifi's "Wedding in Galilee" (1987) deserves praise as a multilayered portrait of Israeli politics and Arab tradition. To celebrate his son's nuptials, a village elder is forced to invite Israeli officers. Resentment, not least by the groom, threatens to destroy the event. In "Since You Left" (2005) famed actor Mohammad Bakri speaks to Emile Habibi, the friend and mentor he lost in 1996. Using home movies and news footage, Bakri narrates the heartbreaking events that have shaken his life and the region. …

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