Other Narratives

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A new phenomenon is flooding the middle-eastern film scene. I first noticed the narrative stand-off between the rising Israeli cinema and the young Palestinian voices at this past year's Cannes film festival. Six new films relating to Israeli or Palestinian life contended for different prizes at this exclusive festival - four of them relating directly to the topic of the stories of Arabs in Israel. As apposed to the Israeli films, which often deal with different realities in Modern Israel, the Palestinian films are delving into the past. Many more films are being made and being released, stirring up the competition and bringing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a new playing field.

Even Israeli films that are about Arab and Israeli interactions, like Keren Yedaya's anticipated follow up to Or, a modern Romeo and Juliet story between an Arab and Jew titled Jaffa, deals with the shared culture of today. This dramatic film which will open The Other Israel Film Festival stylisticly captures the Tensions between the Arab and Jewish community within Israel. But it keeps its eyes forward.

Cannes has always been a supporter of young cinematic voices coming out of this region. It told stories from Israel dating all the way back to the first recognized Israeli film Hill 24 in 1955. There is also nothing new about showing images of the occupation and tension. What is groundbreaking here is the competition to own a narrative, which is driving new Palestinian Cinema.

There is a major emergence in the Palestinian film-world of new narratives capturing the story of Israel's establishment. Elie Suliman, one of the leading voices in Palestinian Cinema created an epic entitled The Time That Remains which follows his family's story from 1948 in Nazareth. Through Suliman's classic ironic vignettes, he shows his father's experiences in 1948, which led to a broken, traumatized man during Suliman's childhood, and further led to Sulliman dealing with his own detachment issues.

One of the most interesting elements of this phenomenon is that these new Palestinian films are not dealing directly with the present conflict. Many of the filmmakers are going back and attempting to retell the source of the conflict from a new perspective. This might be an attempt to challenge early Israeli cinematic images, including Hollywood, who captured the Zionist narrative. Or it might just be a general breaking of the silence that many Arabs adopted in 1948.

Pioneer Palestinian filmmaker Michel Halefi in his upcoming film Nasdik, follows a filmmaker who returns home after many years of living in Europe, and finds a changed country. The filmmaker (Played by Mohamed Bakri) faces a new reality in his home town of Nazareth and attempts for the first time, to face his parents silence, and confront the stories of '48.

Bakri himself directed a new documentary entitled, Zahara. This highly stylized film follows the personal story of his Aunt, and her Journey from pre-state until present day. Never before has such an intimate tale of the Palestinian exile been brought to film.

The importance of the images and stories told in film are underestimated. Cinema is our modern historian. Stories will be remembered based on the visions produced in films. If a film is canonized it is likely to live on as the version of reality remembered. For instance, Oscar Schindler's image will forever be associated with Liam Neison, Moses will always share an image with Charlton Heston, the story of titanic will be remembered as James Cameron told it -- and not necessarily according to reality. Part of the power of a visual medium is that the stories told in films, become "Historical facts" as we, the audience, become an eye witness. Very few films followed the Palestinian perspective of 1948, and now with the rise of Israeli Cinema in the international market, it was only a matter of time that the Palestinian versions would be told.

Till recently, Palestinian films mostly focused on the present conflict. It feels like Palestinian directors are now racing to tell the Palestinian perspective of what they call the "Nakba" or devastation, and Jews refer to as their independence. The narrative of the Nakba has been relatively overlooked in Israeli narratives and in general Israeli society as this perspective is often omitted from Israeli history lessons. Not to say that Israeli films have not attempted to give a balanced perspective. The industry in Israel is dominated by the left wing and many attempts by Israel to show the Palestinian narrative have been made, however, when told by Palestinians, from within, as personal stories, these narratives bring new perspective.

Many more films on this topic are in the works including Tawfik Abu Wael's Tanathor, his long awaited follow up to his acclaimed Atash about a family torn in 1948, and even Julian Schnabel's latest feature entitled Miral follows a similar theme. These films clearly display a culture of recapturing a lost past, while other films, like Israel's Oscar winner Ajami capture a harshly realistic modern day Jaffa. What is evident in all of these films is the torn identity of the Arab people caught between a past and a future.

 

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