Cannes ya ma Cannes Ramallah

We’d been invited to the Franco-German cultural center to see a film by a leftist Israeli filmmaker. The advance notice had said that “this was perhaps the most important film on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ever made.” It was endorsed by a couple well-known intellectuals from abroad, and all its screenings at the Jerusalem Film Festival were sold out well in advance. I’d never seen his first film, which apparently was a autobiographical work that was “sort of interesting.” My friends said the director was a good guy, even if his films weren’t so great. “In any case, this was his first attempt at making a feature film. It’s based on a book of fiction he published.” Afterwards, there was going to be a discussion with a Balkan philosopher, said one of the ecstatic blurbers of the film. The two men had come to Israel for the festival and insisted on making a side trip to Ramallah as part of their trip.

The room was packed with people. Young directors, producers, and actors showed up. The city’s cultural elite were present, including the poet. We arrived so late we had to sit on the floor. It took a number of times for them to get the screening to work right. The first time, we watched the credits and opening scene in a VHS format, but there were only Russian subtitles. The center’s director put in the DVD format, which had Arabic subtitles, but no sound. It must have taken at least half an hour for them to fix the glitches.

Meanwhile, the director hurriedly explained why they were there, and how, paradoxically, their coming to Jerusalem actually honored the spirit of the boycott that Palestinian filmmakers had called for. It certainly was paradoxical. The director said that they had corresponded with the boycott committee in Ramallah. Together, they had come to an arrangement that would allow them to make “unofficial” presentations, thus participating in the film festival and honoring the boycott at one and the same time. As they announced at the beginning of the event, their insistence on twinning their appearance in Jerusalem with one in Ramallah was part of this arrangement. Coming to Ramallah, they said, was an act of solidarity with the many Palestinian filmmakers who were de facto excluded each year by the festival. The director looked into the crowd and nodded at the poet. He then declared that the story of the film was “inspired by the work Mahmoud Darwish. This is the Palestinian premiere of my film. I don’t expect all of you to like it. Its truth may make some of you feel uncomfortable. But it will make you think. I have no doubt about that.” (Read More)