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Shorts Programme - London Palestine Film Fest 2013

Monday 13 May 2013, by Alexandra Olley

The Palestinian Film Festival landed in London last weekend. Never having attended before, I began with Shorts Programme 1, hoping to view a varied range in one sitting. I wasn’t disappointed. This compilation of shorts delivered a high standard of thought provoking, passionate, moving and comic cinema.

Beginning with A Sketch of Manners, a film about Alfred Roch, member of the Palestinian National League, who threw the last ever masked ball in Palestine, 1942. It’s a poignant piece with a sense of lament built upon by the reading of Baudelaire’s A Former Life.
Director Jumana Manna presents the uncertainty of the future from the perspective of one who knew the likely outcome too well. The film turns from the viewpoint of Roch to the unmasked faces of the guests, arranged for a photograph. As they wait patiently, their eyes bore into you. Manna delivers a beautiful and haunting depiction of their inner emotions and vulnerability.

Though I Know the River is Dry, directed by Omar Robert Hamilton, is the moralistic tale of a man choosing between life in the West (and an American passport for his unborn child) and life in war torn Palestine with his family. He chooses to leave. On his eventual return through Qalandiya checkpoint, he’s faced with traumatic memories and guilt for his actions; his family is now lost.

There’s an extremely clear message here; staying to defend your home is crucial to the revolution. His return, too late to save his mother and activist brother, serves as a warning.

It’s beautifully shot and interspersed with footage of conflict and taunting images of Americana. The narrative is not always clear as the personal story is sacrificed in places to stress the director’s opinion. We never truly understand what has happened to this man and his family. However, the urgency with which Hamilton (a founding member of the Mosireen Collective) stresses his message echoes the dire urgency of the situation.

Tunnel, directed by Maryam Kashkoolinia, is claustrophobic, harrowing and nearly as exhausting to watch as it must have been to make but even this strikingly bold animation can only suggest a fragment of the reality.

The Gaza tunnels came into being with the Egyptian/Israeli enforced blockade in 2007 and poor souls were forced to risk everything for survival. Simplicity is the film’s genius and it eloquently demonstrates the perils of living without your basic human rights. It serves as remembrance for those that have perished, struggling to evade the watchful eye of Israeli and Egyptian forces and a reminder that the blockade is far from over.

Roubama draws you into the world of a young refugee surviving in exile. Inspired by the Mahmoud Darwish poem, Lessons from Kamasutra in the Art of Waiting it’s beautifully acted by the protagonist whose world we are invited to glimpse at. Remarkably upbeat to start, director Rakan Mayasi then hits you with an overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness as we discover the imagined world he lives in and the painful truth of his situation.

Maqloubeh, directed by Nicolas Damuni, is a witty look at the famous Palestinian dish, with a sting in the tail. Five friends, confined by curfew, bicker over the correct ingredients as they try to prepare the perfect maqloubeh – should it be with egg plant or cauliflower? Whilst simultaneously, a daytime chat show discusses the very same thing. Against an external backdrop of gunfire, this image of relative domestic peace is rudely interrupted by soldiers who burst in and arrest them. Their meal, left to ruin, is salvaged by the old couple next door. One of the friends, as he’s frogmarched out of his home, quips with his neighbour that the ingredients don’t really matter. Indeed, they don’t but they are a symbolic reminder of Palestinian culture and the danger of its erosion.

A strong selection of shorts, my only real concern was that the cinema was half empty. I would urge everyone to go along and support these and other films. They’re simply well worth watching.

Running from 3-15 May 2013.

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