Monday, November 30, 2020

Youth organisation nurtures Palestinian filmmaking talent

By PM collaborators - December 07, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [Palestinian Art] [cinema]


As a kid, Anis Barghouti spent his afternoons watching films. A lot of films.
“I used to go the cinema five or six times a week. I went to see the same film three of four times,” he says, “I went to the cinema more than I went to school.”
Even during a period away from the world of cinema, working for television in London, it was clear where Barghouti’s heart lay. “Cinema completely shaped my attitudes towards the world,” he says.
Barghouti still watches plenty of films. But now, he is using his experiences to teach others – young Palestinians – about making thoughtful cinema. “I wanted to do something to help young people deprived of the opportunities I had,” he explains. Young Palestinian Film Makers (TPFM), an organisation dedicated to supporting talented young Palestinian filmmakers, is the result.
Several filmmaking courses exist in Palestine, for instance at the Palestine Technical College. But Barghouti explains that students often graduate with a shallow understanding of cinema and its history.
“Students don’t study the classics, from the 1950s and 60s,” he says. “Rather, they end up focusing on making news reports. They don’t realise that a film needs a story: a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
TPFM tries to change this. Over the course of several weeks, students are taught the principles of good cinema, then mentored as they tell their own stories. Editing, camerawork, scriptwriting are all explained. Workshops are organised thematically: the most recent covered environmental issues in Palestine. But in general “we encourage [students] to cover themes that concern them,” Barghouti says.
The result is wonderfully varied. 'The Struggler’, for instance, chronicles the life of an elderly Palestinian woman. Her back arched and speaking in a syrupy rural accent, the protagonist describes living in a cave after the Nakba. Another charming film, 'The Chewing Gum Gang and I’, follows a gang of street kids as they roam around Ramallah making petty cash and throwing stones at Israeli tanks.
Indeed, given its control over all aspects of Palestinian life, it is unsurprising that the Israeli occupation features heavily in many of TPFM’s films. For instance, 'The Great Wall of Palestine’ explores the lives exploded by the Israeli separation wall.
This last film, as well as 'The Chewing Gum Gang and I’, was made by Isra Odeh. She joined TPFM at the age of fifteen, and is now on TPFM’s board of directors.
Both Odeh and Barghouti emphasise the importance of making film in the face of Israeli repression. “I was born with the state of Israel, and I will die under the occupation,” says Barghouti. “Of course, all parts of Palestinian life are affected by the occupation. Making films is a form of resistance.” Odeh agrees: “Cinema is an important way of dealing with the occupation indirectly.”
But neither Odeh nor Barghouti think that occupation should override all other concerns. “If the occupation had lasted one or two years? OK, we could put everything to one side,” says Barghouti. “But the occupation has lasted half a century. We cannot avoid tackling these issues.” For her part, Odeh emphasises that “we also have to focus on social issues. We cannot let the occupation control our thoughts.”
To this end, TPFM also tries to tackle social issues in Palestinian society, especially the participation of women. “Girls are under pressure to conform to cultural expectations in Palestine,” Barghouti says. Often, this precludes filmmaking. And given how rare filmmaking is in parts of rural Palestine generally, it can sometimes take time for the students to “get the courage to go out with a camera and make a story,” he adds. 
More broadly, YPFM has set up a 'women’s unit’ to promote female filmmakers. And Barghouti says that his organisation helps create a network of young Palestinians eager to make interesting films. “They’ll meet up and talk about new films, about how to make better films,” he says.
Some of his students, like Isra Odeh, have gone on to become distinguished professional filmmakers. Indeed, many of TPFM’s films go on to be shown at youth festivals around the world, most recently at the Nordic Youth Film Festival, held in Tromso last June.
But for all his success, Barghouti is conscious about the future. “I am not a young man anymore,” he smiles. “If something happens to me, I want to make sure that young people will be able to run their own society, and keep promoting Palestinian film.”

He needn’t worry. The organisation’s board is also predominantly composed of young women. And with gifted filmmakers like Isra Odeh at the helm, YPFM promises to keep promoting fresh talent far into the future.

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