Cannes Fest Docs 2021: New Vibrant Palestinian Cinema

Cannes Festival Docs: Vibrant Palestinian Cinema

Courtesy of Nael Khleifi

The four Palestinian documentaries-in-progress showcased as part of the Marché’s Cannes Docs Forum attest to the diverse creativity of a new wave of Palestinian filmmakers.

They cover broad range of themes: the plight of refugees crossing the Alps from Italy to France, family of Bedouins forced to leave their homes, mother’s painful decision to leave her country at war, the story of Jenin’s last projectionist.

The films selected are representative of Palestine today, according to May Odeh, the producer of The Last Projectionist.

“It’s like having films from four different countries. Palestinians are everywhere. It’s not about land, it’s about questions that are inside us: We question the refugees in the Alps, modernity and gentrification… we question the future of cinema. This is what I like about Palestinian cinema: it takes a fresh look at a whole new wave of topics through different media.”

In The Last Projectionist, director Alex Bakri follows the quest of Hussein, the former projectionist at Jenin’s old cinema theater, as he tries to recover his job when the rundown theatre is renovated by German NGO.

“This is not only a documentary about reviving an old cinema or about cultural colonization and gentrification. It’s a cinematic experience that pays homage to the medium itself because the medium is the story. Telling the story from the point of view of the projectionist opened a whole new vocabulary of cinematic expression for me, derived from my own and Hussein’s cinematic baggage, so the film has a lot of tribute and reference to cinematic history,” Bakri said.

Alps follows the journey of women and men who help migrants crossing the French-Italian border through the mountains. Belgian-Palestinian director Naël Khleifi’s previous work includes the documentary Waiting (2011), shot in the Jungle of Calais. He says there is a growing understanding of what Palestinian cinema is about.

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AlpsCourtesy of Nael Khleifi

“The world has understood that Palestinians have things to say about themselves,” said Khleifi. “In the past, everyone was talking in the name of Palestinians. In 2021, it’s important to show this diversity because people are finally starting to understand that Palestine is not just a place on a map, but it’s also about cultural belonging, about raising awareness.”

The two other film projects are Asmahan Bkerat’s “Concrete Land,” an intimate look at the lives of a nomadic Bedouin family in its struggle to hold on to its traditional life under the pressures of urbanization; and Yousef Srouji’s “Three Promises,” about a mother who navigates the impossible decision to flee her homeland with her family amid escalating conflict. Using original footage shot by the filmmaker’s own mother during the second Intifada, it recounts the events of Srouji’s childhood.

All four films are looking to close their funding gap, seeking sales and distribution deals and the all-important festival exposure.