Karma Nabulsi in The Guardian on the Palestine Film Festival:
The perilous art of choosing a film on Palestine for an international audience may appear fraught with elephant traps. Weighted down by more than 40 years of military occupation and 60 years of dispossession, and comprising the largest refugee population in the world, Palestine is a touchstone for passion and political engagement across the world. Is a film about it inherently too political, too ideologically rigid to enlighten, or indeed entertain? Do the unhappy politics of the place trump any chance of critical engagement on a film's artistic merit, or allow room for happy accident and serendipity in choosing a film?
The long-running London Palestine film festival, established at London University more than 20 years ago and held annually at the Barbican since 2005, arrived at a highly unexpected and bold solution to this challenge. It somehow manages to transcend this traditional dilemma by holding fast to a few simple but radical aims: to constantly push boundaries, disrupt our conventional understandings, make us see it all anew, and open it up for us once more. With each screening, discussion, roundtable, photography exhibit, director's conversation and artist's event, the world of Palestine is seen yet again, as if for the first time.
Under this mandate, a serious but ebullient festival has emerged. In order to keep shaking things up, a key premise was to universalise Palestine. Although we are in the midst of a wave of Palestinian film talent, they forgo the confines of a traditional "national cinema" series for an unmistakably internationalist one. This year's festival showcases 30 works by artists working in 12 different countries, and across genres from video art to biopic, puts up work for UK premieres (16 this year), and shows cutting-edge documentaries such as Mahmoud al Massad's mesmerising This Is My Picture When I Was Dead.
It also regularly celebrates archive gems, this year showing the recently restored Far from Vietnam (1967), on which Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Alain Resnais and Joris Ivens all worked. The result is a carnival of cinematic styles and concerns that transcend and unite the historical, the aesthetic, and the political in film, and that is why it works so well. Each film and event challenges – either obliquely or directly – our thinking around Palestine today.
The festival also plays a major role as the platform for introducing Palestinian films and film-makers to UK audiences. Since its inception in 1998, more than 320 works have been shown, nearly half by Palestinians. The festival's focus on Palestinian work unites established and emerging artists. This year's festival opens with Zindeeq (pictured), a remarkable work of sublime beauty. Bold, dangerous and difficult, it is the latest work of pioneering Palestinian auteur Michel Khleifi. But it also contains a body of work from a new generation of film-makers such as May Odeh, Rima Essa and Abdallah al Ghoul.
This year the programme highlights pressing contemporary issues, as well. Vibeke Løkkeberg's astonishing Tears of Gaza offers a searing account of the human impact of the 2008-09 war in Gaza, while a triple-bill on 7 May focuses on the tunnels that furnish Gaza's precarious lifeline. And this year includes the rare chance to see Heiny Srour's 1984 feminist masterwork, Leila and the Wolves (co-presented with Birds Eye View film festival), as well as the UK premiere of Dahna Abourahme's groundbreaking documentary on the women of Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon, The Kingdom of Women. Breathtaking, uplifting, heartbreaking, inspiring: welcome to Palestine.
The London Palestine film festival runs from 29 April to 11 May. Details:palestinefilm.org