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Ramona Wadi

Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution

One striking aspect of Yaqub's study is the importance of collective memory

Date of publication: 3 March, 2020

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Book Club: Nadia Yaqub's Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution delves into the political dynamics of Palestinian film.

Nadia Yaqub's research into Palestinian cinema commences with linking film to the rupture of the 1948 Nakba and the role Palestinian refugees played in preserving their history and collective memory.

The historical trajectory from 1948 onwards reveals how Palestinian film emerged from the trauma of a stateless, ethnically-cleansed people and the global context of decolonisation, which happened at a time when Palestinians were resisting against the colonisation and occupation of their land.

Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution (University of Texas Press, 2018) delves into the political dynamics of Palestinian film.

Yaqub describes her work as studying "the works within regional and global conversations and practices surrounding the filmmaking and politics of the era."

Prior to the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, visual media representing Palestine was burdened with external narratives; this includes the depictions by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which, the author states, encouraged "a humanitarian gaze, one that depoliticises the Palestinian narrative even as it seeks to speak for its protagonists."

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Undoing the external image and narrative of Palestine required an influence from within. Palestinian art and literature contributed to the national liberation and resistance movement and constituted the foundations from which Palestinian film would emerge to also contradict, for example, the UNRWA dissemination of Palestinians as dependent on humanitarian aid.

The international focus on Palestine failed to distinguish between necessity and wilful dependence. Filmmakers from the 1960s onwards challenged the narrative and imparted a Palestinian-centred approach.

As the PLO moved towards a national liberation strategy, Palestinian filmmaking took its cues from the current events at the time, documenting and filming political and military activity.

Filmmaking became part of the liberation movement and sought to dissociate from the international veneer which undermined the Palestinian struggle.

Palestinian refugee camps were at the helm of filmmaking as "sites from which the Palestinian national movement was emerging."

Indeed, Palestinian narratives defined the camps as temporary. The 1948 rupture was affirmed as a foundation from which a political future could be considered.

As the liberation movement strengthened, the shift in Palestinian cinema moved from rupture to resistance in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yaqub describes her work as studying 'the works within regional and global conversations and practices surrounding the filmmaking and politics of the era'

Yaqub discusses the Palestinian "third cinema" within the context of revolutionary movements in Palestine and worldwide.

In the 1960s and 1970s, cinema focused on reclaiming ownership of narratives.

Throughout the book, the author discusses several films which indicate the trajectory followed by Palestinian cinema.

From memory to revolution, Yaqub shows how "the Palestinian filmmakers were engaging, whether deliberately or intuitively, in an experiment with affective image production for revolutionary purposes."

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In particular, the narratives included in films imparted the importance of discussing issues such as exploitation and political responsibility, even as Palestinian memory and rupture continued to form the premise of visual media.

Indeed, the link between collective memory and the national liberation movement affirmed that "the answer to colonial violence is not only resistance, but also life."

The simplification of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle into either rupture or resistance detracted from an encompassing view of Palestinian identity.

Yaqub shows how the Palestinian filmmaking was also part of an international movement that sought to communicate the politics of decolonisation, particularly in Latin America.

Colonialism and imperialism wrought destruction on indigenous cultures to the point that national expression was annihilated.

"In the resulting cultural vacuum, imperialist forces were understood to be engaging in a process of acculturation such that the third world peoples would internalise the values of imperialism."

Palestinian filmmaking countered this expectation by representing "the Palestinian revolution as a movement whose promise will be realised in the future, once Palestine is liberated." 

As filmmakers from other countries engaged with the Palestinian cause, the opportunity to impart Palestinian film and narratives was presented.

Palestinian filmmaking countered this expectation by representing 'the Palestinian revolution as a movement whose promise will be realised in the future, once Palestine is liberated'

Some Western filmmakers participated in the process by producing films that dispelled the colonial agenda, for a Western audience.

One striking aspect of Yaqub's study is the importance of collective memory and oral history in the Palestinian context.

The identification with collective memory, in particular through documentary films which depict Zionist colonial massacres from the Palestinian remembrance, provides an opportunity for Palestinians to build their archives of memory.

In her final chapter, which does not read as a conclusion, the author discusses how the loss of the PLO archives in Beirut in 1982 reflects upon the earlier loss and rupture of the Nakba.

The absence of a unified revolutionary movement is transmitted through ambivalence towards armed resistance and on that reflects the ongoing overtures towards diplomacy.

As the revolutionary film period came to an end, the author perceives the current trends as "invoking the Palestinian revolution, to comment critically on the present without nostalgia."

The neoliberal agenda has added to the historical trauma suffered by Palestinians; it remains to be seen if activism can surpass the boundaries to once again aid in articulating the Palestinian narrative from a Palestinian perspective and experience. 

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

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