The 14th annual London Palestine Film Festival runs from 20th April to 3rd May this year at the Barbican Centre and University of London venues, and boasts a rich and diverse programme of over 50 works – including 26 premieres, 25 guest speakers, a season of pre-festival events, and an accompanying video art exhibition.

Celebrating almost a century of cinema from and about Palestine, the Palestine Film Foundation, which curates the festival, offers a programme covering a wide scope of outstanding content, from film archives of British colonial rule in Palestine, to a rare screening of the late Susan Sontag’s only documentary, to contemporary dramas, comedies, documentaries and shorts on subjects as diverse as Palestinian refugees in South America, the siege of Beirut, and settlers living on Palestinian land.

Susan Sontag’s Promised Lands (1974)

The festival’s programme also reaches beyond Palestine, with a documentary on the Druze minority in Israel and an illustrated talk by award-winning Professor Ella Shohat on the politics of Israeli cinema. Two ‘Beyond Palestine’ events will also screen films and hold panel discussions on the anti-colonial struggle in Western Sahara, and prisoners of the Syrian regime.

The documentary genre is extremely well-represented at this year’s festival as usual, with an impressive roster of filmmaking talent exploring numerous topics – from the obstacles faced by the Palestinian Women’s National Football team, to free running (parkour) in Gaza, to Palestinian Muslims who serve in the Israeli army. A strong diversity of documentary forms are on offer, from narrative features to video essays to a piece of French Maoist activist cinema entitled L’Olivier (The Olive Farmer), made in 1976 as a rousing call for European political engagement with the Palestinian struggle.

International filmmakers also enjoy a presence at this year’s festival, notably as part of an engaging triple bill entitled Politics As Art, which features two documentaries. The 2008-09 war on the Gaza Strip is compared to the 1864 massacre of Native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado in Sand Creek Equation by American filmmaker Travis Wilkerson, who was the first to present multi-media performance art at Sundance Film Festival, in 2007 with Proving Ground. And in docu-essay X-Mission, the logic of modern-day Palestinian refugee camps is questioned by Swiss director Ursula Biemann, who is also a writer and researcher at the Institute for Theory of Art and Design Zurich.

Another docu-essay is presented in the form of Ashkenaz, an “audaciously lucid gaze at the ironic twists of history”(Prof. Ella Shohat). Directed by California-born and Tel Aviv-raised Rachel Leah Jones, the film explores the complex cultural and racial identity of the Ashkenazim, who Lee Jones calls “Israel’s ‘white folks’” – Jews of European origin.

Omar Shargawi’s My Father from Haifa (2009)

Identity is also a strong theme in multi-award winning My Father from Haifa, in which director Omar Shargawi documents his attempts to persuade his father to visit his hometown of Haifa (from which he was exiled as a young man) and open up about the painful memories of his past.

Canadian Mike Hoolboom’s Lacan Palestine also deserves a definite mention – a real feat of technical and conceptual mastery. Combining existing footage including fiction, fantasy, documentary and TV news, Hoolboom layers together a “visual rollercoaster” (LPFF) around the idea of Palestine being ‘a land that is not a land’, weaving together Abraham, Moses, crusaders, Jacques Lacan, John Coltrane, machine guns and psychoanalytic ponderings.

The festival closes witih The Spring of Young Palestinian Women Filmmakers, which is guest curated by Shashat – the only Palestinian NGO dedicated to women’s film. Shashat director Alia Arasoughly will introduce six distinctive shorts by Palestinian women filmmakers, made during workshops, as well as her own short film The Clothesline.

Kamal Aljafari’s Port of Memory (2009)

However, before the festival even begins – on 20th April with the opening gala screening of quirky Palestinian comedy Man Without A Cellphone – there are three warm-up events lined up at venues across the capital. This pre-festival mini-season kicks off on 29th March at the Hackney Picturehouse with a screening of Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof and Port of Memory, including a talk by the director whose work “brings cinema to a place beyond the question of fiction, documentary and video art” [Sight & Sound].

The second pre-festival event is an exclusive screen talk with Amnesty International UK and Adalah (the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel), on 5th April at the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch. A discussion between Amnesty campaign manager Kristyan Benedict and Adalah advocate and lawyer Suhad Bishara will follow a screening of three short films exploring the complex subject of Arab rights in Israel.

The third and final event of the pre-festival mini-season will be the premiere of Last Days in Jerusalem on 12th April at the Ciné Lumière in Kensington. The screening of the much anticipated drama will be followed by a Q&A with director Tawfik Abu Wael, whose debut feature Atash won the International Critics Prize at Cannes in 2004.

In addition to the pre-festival season and main festival programme, an accompanying video art exhibition of fascinating variety will also be running at the Barbican Centre from 6th – 26th April. Navigations: Palestinian Video Art, 1988 – 2011 showcases the creative adventures of twelve Palestinian artists in a variety of forms, and is jointly curated with ArtSchool Palestine. Themes of displacement and diaspora have a strong presence within the works, though are presented differently through an incredibly diverse range of subjects and story-telling techniques.

For a full programme and all information regarding the festival, including buying tickets, please visit the Palestine Film Foundation website.

The Palestine Film Foundation is a non-profit initiative which seeks to develop an audience for and to encourage the development of Palestinian cinema, and cinema related to Palestine. It is managed by a network of academics, curators, filmmakers, and volunteers from the UK, Palestine and around the globe, and relies on generous donations from its supporters.

If you’d like to contribute to the continued success and growth of such an important cultural foundation, you can make an online donation here.

by Steph Robinson

Reeling The Real is a new community dedicated to the discussion, promotion, and celebration of documentary film-making.

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