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Toronto Palestine Film Festival
  Written By:  Deena Douara in Toronto
  Article Date:
 27, 2008 


On the heels of the Toronto International Film Festival comes another motion picture fete about a people trying to carve out a state in a war-torn region.

From October 25 to November 1, Toronto will showcase 36 films about the Palestinians as part of year-long commemorations marking the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe. 

Kole Kilibarda, one of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) organisers, believes audiences will be surprised by "the amazing cinema produced even under the most difficult of circumstances."

The TPFF will include Canadian, North American, and world premieres of award-winning documentaries, features, and short films.   

Palestinian films have gained prominence on the international scene in recent years, beginning with the enigmatic Divine Intervention (2002) and the controversial Oscar-nominated Paradise Now (2005). 

Jackie Reem Salloum, the director of the documentary Slingshot Hip Hop, which is being screened at the festival, believes Palestinian filmmakers have a responsibility to portray the social and political conflict in the Middle East.

"Hollywood doesn't know anything about the Palestinian issue," she told Al Jazeera.

Salloum says Palestinian parents should encourage their children to tell their stories through artistic expression and the media.

Social, not political

TPFF organisers say they chose to showcase Palestinian works as artistic and cultural productions, steering away from political discourse.

Dania Majid, the head organiser, admits that the films necessarily touch on political issues due to the reality of day-to-day life for Palestinians, but she says the express purpose of the festival is a cultural "opportunity to discuss Palestinian narratives."

Kilibarda says the films were carefully selected, from more than 200 submissions, to exhibit a diversity of viewpoints across gender, sexual preferences, religion and age.

"They [the films] should be listened to on their own terms because the views presented don't necessarily fit into political categories [but rather] they focus on the human story," Kilibarda told Al Jazeera.

Nicole Ballivian, director of the festival feature Driving to Zigzigland, says her film is about more than a Palestinian experience.

"It's homage to immigrants coming to America to try to pursue the American dream and finding it is a major struggle." 

Ballivian, who is not an Arab, says the film is a comedy composite of real experiences she and her Palestinian ex-husband experienced in the US after 9/11 (including a "verbatim" conversation between her and FBI officers). 

For two years, Ballivian was followed and questioned by the FBI. Though she says she was never seriously concerned, "anything could happen to anyone in this country [the US]."

Ballivian believes that while one cannot separate the human drama from the politics, it is nonetheless the audience in both composition and intent that determines whether a film about Palestinians is necessarily "political."

Israeli film festival

Organisers say public reaction to the festival has been overwhelmingly positive and that many films have already sold out.

But the public and those interested in issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also have the chance to view some seven films screened during the Israel Film Festival which also opens on October 25.

The Israel Film Festival was previously held in Montreal in May.

A Jewish Film Festival, which was held in Toronto last May, played at least two of the seven films featured in the upcoming Israel festival. 

Eran Bester, one of the organisers of the Israeli film festival, insists he only recently discovered the "coincidence" that the two festivals appear to overlap.

"The only place we [Israelis and Palestinians] should compete is in culture, and sports maybe," Bester said.

Focus on human interest

However, both the Palestinian and Israeli film festivals appear to be following a trend of "de-politicising" the conflict in the Middle East and instead focusing on the human interest angle as depicted through art.

"There is a real desire to instrumentalise art and culture in a way to use for political ends, but art and culture are much more powerful" says Kilibarda.

While none of the films offer simple solutions to the conflict or the difficulties Palestinians face in their daily life, Kilibarda believes the fact these films were even made should provide inspiration.

That such films received financing and distribution and be screened at large venues offers "enough reason for hope," he said.

"It's a really important kind of success."

Source: Al Jazeera