University News

Film Fest showcases Palestinian life

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The inaugural Providence Palestinian Film Festival wraps up Wednesday after a week of screenings designed to draw attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since it kicked off last Thursday, the week-long festival has shown three feature films, a series of short documentaries and an exhibit of photographs taken by students at Palestinian universities. The event was sponsored by Common Ground, a student group dedicated to bringing “marginalized and unique voices” about the conflict to campus, according to the film festival’s Web site.

Saturday afternoon in Carmichael Auditorium, Nitin Sawhney, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented short films from his project “Voices Beyond Walls.” The short movies were made by Palestinian children during storytelling workshops in refugee camps over the last several summers.
The short films portray aspects of chaotic Palestinian life, ranging from the tragedy of a girl losing her arms in a land mine explosion to the joy another girl derives from releasing a captured bird, and encompass everything from the intensity of a youth basketball tournament between Palestine and Jordan to the maturation of a boy who learns to value his educational opportunities. 

Sawhney said in a discussion after the screening that the children concentrated the stories’ narrative focus on the compelling stories of Palestinian lives, with the widespread violence pressed into the background. He said he learned many lessons from the children and hoped to extend the program to Gaza and to spread awareness of modern Palestinian life.
“This is really a crucial issue, and the American psyche isn’t recognizing it as such,” Sawhney said during the discussion. 

Other screened documentaries and shorts included the first two of Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s “Inessential” series, films that attempt to illustrate how Israeli government restrictions have devastated fishing and farming industries in the region, and Philip Rizk’s “This Palestinian Life,” which documents the nonviolent protests of some rural Palestinians as they refuse to vacate their land and homes.

On Sunday night, Avon Cinema hosted the independent film “Salt of this Sea,” in which a Palestinian-American woman named Soraya returns to her family’s homeland in an attempt to regain her deceased grandfather’s assets, which were lost upon his 1948 exile. The film explores the issues of Palestinian treatment at the hands of Israelis and the contrast between Soraya’s desire to regain her history and her friend Emad’s wish to leave Palestine behind him.

Film festival co-chairs Joanna Abousleiman ’09 and Chantal Berman ‘10.5 said they were inspired by events like the Boston Palestine Film Festival, which ran last October, and wanted to expand the scope of featured films to include lesser-known works and more recent releases. 

“We wanted to present a new perspective,” Abousleiman said.

In order to support the festival and help acquire the film rights, Common Ground received a grant from Brown’s Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Research in Culture and Media Studies, she said.

“Film’s a great way to get people interested in the issues,” Berman said, adding that she and other group members were pleased with the turnout this year and were hoping to be able to run the festival again next year.

Monday night, also at Avon, the festival screened part four of the six-part documentary “Chronicles of a Refugee,” which, like “Voices Beyond Walls,” delves into the lives of Palestinian refugees and their dilemmas of identity and citizenship. Director Adam Shapiro, a human rights activist, led a discussion of the film after the screening.

The festival began last Thursday with a screening at Avon Cinema of “Slingshot Hip Hop,” a 2008 documentary that follows a variety of Palestinian hip-hop groups.

Last Friday Common Ground also hosted an exhibit at the Cogut Center for the Humanities of photographs taken by Palestinian students. The artists are students at Birzeit University, near Ramallah in the West Bank, and An-Najah University, in Nablus.

On Wednesday, the last day of the festival, the film “Private” will be shown at Avon Cinema at 9 p.m. It will be free and open to the public.