Palestine Film Club: Grassroots collective, global vision
With its dapper branding and cool merchandise, Shoreditch's RichMix cinema is a fitting location for PFC's first event outside of Palestine, in which it promises to bring the brightest Palestinian talent to global audiences.
Formed in Jerusalem two years ago by filmmakers Muhannad Halawani and Aida Ka'adan, the PFC is a collective of young Palestinian creatives who, fed up with having to cosy up to PA officials, NGOs, or worse, the Israeli government to get funding for their projects, took matters into their own hands. The result: an ambitious and fiercely border-defying venture aiming to put the Palestinian film industry firmly on the map.
They hope the London launch will be the first of many screenings to be held in cities across the world. And it's got off to a good start, having sold out three times over.
"I've been bowled away by people's response. We didn't bank on how much interest there would be here," says Nadia, a Palestinian-Jewish Londoner who has co-founded of PFC's chapter in the capital.
|As young Palestinian artists, we are always looking for a clean platform that hasn't been messed up by politics|
Why Jerusalem? Amid the political tussling, culture has "been forgotten," says Momin, PFC's Outreach, Engagement and Creative Director. In East Jerusalem, "they've forgotten to entertain the Palestinian people."
Ultimately, PFC aims to harness international support towards building a truly independent outlet for Palestinian creative voices and visions, uncorrupted by political agendas and endless factionalism and outside of the narrow media lens.
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For PFC's founders, the struggle to protect their Palestinian identity and revive youth culture takes primacy over big-P Politics, which they feel too often overshadows free and creative expression.
"As young Palestinian artists, we are always looking for a clean platform that hasn't been messed up by politics," says Momin, who makes the case for Palestinian culture needing some fresh representation.
"The big organisations with the money want to live the dream of Palestine, not actual Palestine. Palestine now is we [us], the young people. But the big organisations want to keep celebrating the traditional Palestinian dress, tatreez [embroidery], dabke [traditional folk dancing]. This is historical Palestine."
This may sound contentious for many who insist on the centrality of tradition to Palestinian identity, but Momin and Nadia's alternative is bold, and exciting.
Their grand vision for the Palestinian film industry has many elements: to generate funds through film club screenings that can be put back into education and community outreach initiatives, such as an exchange programme for young filmmakers, as well as offering them workshops and training.
They also want to bring film screenings to Palestinian refugee camps, which are so often left out of the cultural sphere. The global dimension is significant, as PFC also aims to make Palestine an attractive location for film crews, "which it should be but for reasons political and otherwise, it's not currently," says Nadia.
|There's a safe space that comes with knowing that you're telling your own story, that you're responsible for generating your own narrative|
Going beyond even these noble aims, PFC's ultimate goal is to provide the cultural outlet needed for Palestinian communities, fragmented by border walls, permits and checkpoints, and underserved by corrupt authorities. Momin talks animatedly about bringing workshops, DJing and graffiti to camps such as Jenin where he grew up. His friends, DJ collective Jazar Crew from Haifa, are to play the after party to the screening.
For Momin, individuality in the Palestinian political environment is "a big challenge". To pursue a creative career, the only way for him was to leave Palestine.
"I ended up in London because I'm a theatre actor and writer. If I want to stay in Palestine I either need to become a friend of the PA or with someone working in an NGO in order to get a job. That's the reality," he says.
"In order for me to do my own writing on my own terms, I needed to leave my town, where I grew up," he adds, lamenting the irony that he makes work for family and friends back home, but they are the most difficult audience to access.
This is the Palestinian predicament that PFC wants to change.
"In regard to youth culture, there's so much creativity and creative energy," says Nadia. "But lack of opportunity is the issue. It's really about providing these so Palestinian creatives are not having to go elsewhere to promote their work," she adds.
The way to get young people involved in the projects is by giving them space to be experimental and creative, and for taking charge of telling their own stories.
"By creating a safe space and inviting young people to join us, we will overcome this siege, this mental siege," Momin explains.
"There's a safe space that comes with knowing that you're telling your own story, that you're responsible for generating your own narrative on your own terms, and dictating your voice and how you want it to reach other people," says Nadia.
"There are so many issues that arise with the appropriation of Palestinian narratives, and it's about trying to create an independent platform where people feel safe to speak," she adds.
The film screening itself – seven short films – is a showcase of emerging talent from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, as the collective also aim to create a hub for collaboration between Arab filmmakers, which is near impossible in their geographically restricted reality.
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Even among the mix of documentaries, fiction films, sci-fi, satire and black comedy, the recurrence of themes is striking. Exile and return form the key motifs of nearly all the shorts, with the surrounding noise of hope, loss, pain and confusion sharply articulated by the storytellers.
It is interesting to see the bulk of the films centring around male characters, real and fictional, forming almost a meditation on Arab masculinity. The films charter male struggles against poverty, disability, addiction, trauma and sheer desperation, which inflict emotional and physical pain that they are forced to mask in order to perform their role of breadwinning patriarch in the traditional society in which they live.
One particularly striking documentary from Gazan student filmmaker Mohammed Almughanni, chronicles the shattering apart of a family's life after a bomb decimates their house in Shujayya during the 2014 war, and their struggle to rebuild normality amid the fog of trauma. The story is raw and uncensored, but sensitive and skilfully told with a staggering maturity and perceptiveness for such a young filmmaker.
Fiction short Strawberry, from PFC's very own Aida Kaadan, gives a more humour-inflected portrayal of the absurd movement restrictions in Israel-Palestine, chartering one man's quest to see the sea. It's sharp and funny, another exceptional offering from one of Palestine's emerging young talents.
The films are sobering in their frank portrayal of the Palestinian reality, and – spoiler alert – don't often have a happy ending. However they evoke a rich and truthful spectrum of the Palestinian and Arab experience, all unique in their context of time and space, fiction or reality, which underlines the PFC's bold aims and timely vision.