Fascinating stories find the spotlight they deserve at Bristol Palestine Film Festival

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By Scarlett Sherriff, Fourth Year, Modern Languages

At Watershed, Scarlett Sherriff caught two screenings - drama Reports on Sarah and Saleem and documentary What Walaa Wants - as part of the Bristol Palestine Film Festival, a celebration of film in the region that has been running since 2011.

The idea for the event came about in 2007. A Bristol football team visited the West Bank and had a kickabout with Palestinians living there and, upon their return, decided to create a platform to share stories of Palestinian humanity, creativity and lived experience.

Confiscated props, interactions with Israeli and Palestinian police and demonstrations about the highly contested question of access to Al-Aqsa Mosque - the third holiest site in Islam, which lies on top of the famous Temple Mount, sacred in Judaism - were just some of the obstacles faced by the production team of Reports on Sarah and Saleem (2018).

Vimeo / heretic

The film is set in Jerusalem, a city sacred in all three of the largest Abrahamic religions, and consequently a place where politics is unavoidable. It tells the story of a love affair between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman who meet at one of Jerusalem’s cafés, where traditionally the city’s inhabitants gossip, laugh and debate over cups of Turkish style espresso.

Director Muayad Alayan worked in a café in West Jerusalem and, in the Q&A session that followed the screening, explained how this experience inspired Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Serving up coffee was not just his first encounter with Israeli civilian society, but also where he would glimpse clandestine affairs between Palestinians and Israelis taking place before his eyes.

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Watershed / Reports on Sarah and Saleem

The film tackles the violent, bloody consequences of being seen in the wrong place at the wrong time in a world where the effects of illicit love can be much more than a broken family. Borders are an ever-present part of life in The Holy Land, and images of them contrast starkly with the comfortable, intimate setting of the café.

Shots in which characters are looking at each other and not directly at the audience highlight the intimacy of these relationships; they are not for the spectator to consume, but rather to be aware of and understand. Switching between Hebrew, Arabic and occasionally English, the film highlights the many realities that coexist and conflict with one another in a politically and socially tense space.

Twitter / @midnightmovies

Alayan laid out his belief that cinema may not be able to pull down walls but that it ‘has the power to touch the hearts and minds of people’. Independent cinema initiatives like Bristol Palestine Film Festival should be celebrated for precisely this reason. The more we are able to relate to a situation, the more we can call for change and unity in conflict zones.

Also about intimate relationships and passion, but told very differently, What Walaa Wants (2018) tells the real life story of Walaa, a girl who grew up in Balata Camp, a refugee camp in the West Bank. Her dream is to defy the odds and join the Palestinian Security Forces. Filmed over several years by director Christy Garland it shows the personal growth of a fifteen year old into a twenty-one year old ready to face adulthood.

Vimeo / Christy Garland

Like a typical teenager, she creatively attempts to avoid running when she can’t be bothered, has silly arguments with her sisters and cousins and is stubborn both when she should and shouldn’t be. Lurking in the background of this joyful depiction of family life are the harsh realities of prison, refugee status, and economic poverty.

Walaa’s passion always shines through in spite of the odds and she makes it through the harsh training process. ‘Inshallah [God willing] she’ll succeed’ says the head officer at the camp, reflecting the audience’s feelings. Alongside Walaa, the audience learns the importance of compassion, even amid strife. Full of humour, What Walaa Wants offers us an important insight into the life of a funny, enthusiastic and ambitious Palestinian teen.

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Watershed / What Walaa Wants

It is important to support the ambitions of Palestinian filmmakers like Alayan and to share the stories of young girls like Walaa. If you would like to watch some of these films, details of everything shown at the Bristol Palestine Film Festival can be seen at https://bristolpff.org.uk

Featured Image Credit: Twitter / @BristolPFF


Have you been inspired to check out more Palestinian short films? Don't forget to watch the trailers for all of the Festival's offerings online!

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