I am new to the world of Palestinian documentary movies, mainly because I was never much of a movie person. Lately though, we have been getting the chance to watch many such productions, which have been making me think about alternative ways of spreading awareness about the Palestinian case. The diversity of the information that one can represent on audio-visual platforms is amazing. Countless production methods can be equipped and many ideas can be given out realistically and unrealistically. A director also has the freedom to choose his method of output, and how he wants his audience to feel by choosing how he sends out his message.
It is that last particular point, how a director chooses how to send his message, which has been making me think. The three documentaries we watched were very different in that regards.
We watched Hani Abu Assad‘s “Ford Transit” sometime during the beginning of the month at Darat Al-Funun. The story follows young bus driver Rajai around as he brings different people to their destinations in Jerusalem and Ramallah, dodging road blocks, taking risky detours on dirt roads and stopping to pick up counterfeit CDs that he sells on to earn some extra cash. His passengers are diverse, making their meeting point all the more interesting; the mother of a female suicide bomber, French women’s rights activists, former Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi, and Israeli filmmaker BZ Goldberg. The passengers complain about the wives, make jokes about Bush, loudly fight over their bad days, putting in their own insightful, sarcastic, frustrated, and angry conversations and encounters into the documentary.
What I really liked about “Ford Transit” was how humorous it was. Abu Assad successfully managed to give a colorful mosaic of the Palestinian case through public transport, the vehicle becoming a metaphor for attempts to find a way through the chaos of occupation and resistance, all the while giving some insights and avoiding playing the “victim card”. The soundtrack was also brilliant. I think we rated this movie an 8/10 at the time we watched it.
The second movie we watched was “Sabra and Chatila: The Past Continues” which was screened at Mohtaraf Al-Remal, with its director Lebanese Hicham Jurdi as a guest. The movie follows the desolate refugee-camp lives of the survivors of the 1982 Chatila massacre. Through personal interviews, it clearly portrays the social, emotional, and physical havoc wrecked on the lives of these Palestinians, who still suffer from the consequences of the massacre 20 years on.
My partner and I did not like this movie much. The characters the director chose to interview were both shallow and too simple, perfect players for the “evermore victims” card. Furthermore, Jurdi’s plot was merely focusing on how the Palestinians of Chatila are hopeless victims of circumstances, who do not have any courage or strength to face all the abusive action, and how only fate makes them alive. Regardless of the amount of truth in Jurdi’s stance, I really dislike this depreciation of the Palestinian identity into the choice of living as victims, in the helpless victim mentality. The movie was also not very well directed, and it dragged towards the end. We gave it a 3 out of 10.
Ironically, the audience was mainly made up of limbless Iraqis who were in Amman for the week to undergo medical procedures after sustaining severe injuries in Iraq. The women, men, and children, who all seemed to be in very desolate states, staring blankly at everything but the movie, were invited to the screening. As I watched the movie that was telling the on going tragedies of life 20 years after the massacre, I couldn’t help but feel very horrible for the Iraqis, who are currently living through a constant massacre. Zay kan2eno na2eshom more pain bi 7ayat-hom.
Last night, we watched our last Palestinian movie for July, “Palestine Blues” at Makan by Palestinian-American director Nida Sinnokrot. This documentary was the only one of the three with a personal touch, where Sinnokrot makes me feel his perspective before he tells the facts. I like that. He follows the construction of a 400-mile barrier began in the Occupied West Bank, whose form changes along the route, and near large cities it is a concrete wall twice as high as the Berlin Wall. Instead of focusing on the Wall as an object, Palestine Blues examines the grassroots resistance movement that has sprung up against it.
In contrast to “Sabra and Chatila: The Past Continues”, “Palestine Blues” is about choosing to stand up and fight, take action, and take control of our lives. It was also very realistic, the characters crawl right into your heart, close enough to remind you of your own uncles, grandmothers, aunts, and neighbors. It portrayed Palestinians like I know them, people like my aunts and cousins, rather than suicide bombers and massacre victims, and I the grounded approach is a fresh breeze. We gave it an 8 out of 10, because it sort of dragged towards the end and because the editing was not very professional. Otherwise, it is definitely my favorite out of the three, although Hani Abu Asaad is the better director.
Have you watched any of these movies?