“For a Free Palestine” shines a light on Palestinian voices

For a Free Palestine: Perpetual Recurrences

Cinema has the power to entertain, educate, and empathize, and the Another Screen film series “For a Free Palestine: Films by Palestinian Women” does all that. Launched on May 18 after the world’s attention turned to Israeli violence against Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, at the Al-Aqsa mosque, and in Gaza City that resulted in hundreds of deaths of Palestinian men, women, and children, the “For a Free Palestine” series has made nearly 20 films available for free.

The selection, curated by feminist film journal Another Gaze co-founder and Another Screen lead programmer Daniella Shreir, exclusively focuses on the work of Palestinian woman directors, with the current offerings including films mostly made in the 2000s, decades after the First Intifada, the Oslo Accords, and Second Intifada.

With most American news media taking an implicitly pro-Israeli perspective, films like the shorts, documentaries, animated, and feature-length projects compiled here provide a glimpse into everyday life for Palestinians living under occupation and oppression.

Children in classrooms and refugee camps, multigenerational families preparing for a feast to break the Ramadan fast, experimental films that imagine Palestinian liberation as a goal as admirable as landing a person on the moon—all of them united in a desire to showcase the common hardships and unique perseverance of Palestinian lives.

“Beyond images of destruction and trauma, these filmmakers offer infinite ways of seeing the Occupation, proposing strategies including reverie, fantasy, and humour, and engaging both with the archive and new technologies,” Shreir said in a press release regarding the film series. “It is a real honour to bring these artists and filmmakers into conversation with each other.”

Through June 18, all films in “For a Free Palestine” will be streaming for free online on the Another Screen platform, and an additional dozen or so will be added before the end of the series. (Donations to support the series will go toward humanitarian aid in Gaza and filmmaking initiatives related to Palestinian cinema.)

A full list of films in the series is available here.

Wondering where to start? Below are recommendations for what to watch.


For a Free Palestine: Perpetual Recurrences
For a Free Palestine: Perpetual Recurrences

Perpetual Recurrences (An Exercise in Film Programming) (2016), dir. Reem Shilleh

This 58-minute documentary from Reem Shilleh—a curator, researcher, and editor who focuses on “militant and revolutionary image practices in and around liberation and emancipatory struggles, in particular Palestine, its diaspora, and solidarity network”—is a collection of scenes from 13 Palestinian films and films about Palestine. Beginning in 1976 with the Danish film “Oppressed People Are Always Right” and continuing to 2013’s Palestinian film “Home Movies Gaza” (also streaming as part of this series), Perpetual Recurrences tracks the history of the Palestinian liberation movement by comparing and contrasting how it’s been described and contextualized by various parties.

In clips from “Oppressed People Are Always Right,” a male teacher teaches a classroom of young boys about Palestinian history and the expulsion of Palestinians from the land that would become Israel. He moves easily from questions about geography to “Why does the Palestinian people carry weapons?” and repeats the Palestinian motto for liberation, “Revolution until victory,” for the boys. The film’s narrator speaks about how most Palestinian children have seven or so years of schooling before “most face unemployment,” and if they are able, traveling to other Arab countries to work and send money back home.

Education and how treasured Palestinian children are in their community are common themes: a stop at a school run by the Fatah Movement, another at which Palestinian teenagers learn English from a French-accented teacher, a handheld camera follows children walking home from school in between narrow, crumbling buildings. Also educational for viewers new to learning about Palestinian resistance are interviews with guerrilla Fida’eyeen fighters, a pair of women driving through a rural landscape and discussing workers’ strikes, and a final segment in which Palestine is captured through the window of a moving car: rustling wind, graffitied buildings, moldering billboards, satellite dishes, murals, honking taxis, playing kids, and finally, waves crashing on the beach.

In a final experimental touch, we see a handheld radio and listen to its station change from Arab music to a news report about public health concerns for people in Gaza. In its decades-spanning broadness, Perpetual Recurrences provides a look at what was and what is, and its approach is always compassionate and often dispiriting.

“The Road to Palestine” (1985), dir. Layaly Badr

Continuing along the “children are the future” theme, “The Road to Palestine” is a 16-minute short produced by the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1985, two years before the representative organization was declared by the United States to be a terrorist group. It would be easy to improperly malign “The Road to Palestine” as simple propaganda, given that its protagonist’s father becomes a martyr. But in reality, the film is a reflection of the concerns and fears of Palestinian children, and of the terrors they’ve normalized by growing up stateless and in a war zone.

Based on the testimony and drawings of a girl named Layla, “The Road to Palestine” shows us her illustrations—of her playing hopscotch with her friends, of the cramped refugee camp in which she lives with her parents, and of the Israeli warplanes dropping bombs and explosive thermal balloons—before bringing them to life through simple 2D animation. Layla dreams of living in an idyllic, green landscape with butterflies, birds, and orange trees—a “Palestine free of war and bombs,” as the narrator says—but as Layla’s father emphasizes before he dies defending his family, “Struggling is our only way in Palestine.”

The film’s sharp contrast between the innocence that should be afforded to children (Layla’s drawing of a mischievous donkey attempting to eat freshly picked oranges) and the reality of Palestinian childhood (a gigantic ghost appearing in the smoke cloud engulfing the refugee camp after its bombing) are hard to shake.

“Electrical Gaza” (2015), dir. Rosalind Nashashibi

There are many beautiful images captured in “Electrical Gaza,” Rosalind Nashashibi’s 17-minute documentary/animated film hybrid, and many devastating images too. A cluster of people waits at a closed border crossing—waiting on their feet; waiting while in buses; waiting, waiting, waiting. Two boys strut toward the camera, treating the alley between two homes as their runway. Two children sit in the shade of a verdant tree, surrounded by an enclosure of palms. A group of men cook a meal together and sing after dinner, their voices accenting each other in evocative harmony. A group of men march in the street, waving the green flag of Hamas.

During certain scenes, what we see onscreen shifts into an animated version of itself (those children under the tree, those men cooking) and what we hear is the steady rhythm of Nashashibi’s breathing. Together, those flourishes remind us of the artifice and authenticity we’re seeing, of the lives lived in these alternately cramped and gorgeous locations. Most affecting are scenes of a group of boys leading their horses into the blue Mediterranean Sea, splashing water upon them, the horses themselves stoic amid the waves.

In the years since the filming in June 2014, Palestinians’ access to the Gaza coastline and its beach has only decreased as a result of the worsened political environment and water pollution. These moments are, like the film itself, a hybrid, both serene and desperate.


“Your Father Was Born a 100 Years Old, and So Was The Nakba” (2017), dir. Razan AlSalah

Playing out entirely on Google Street View, the 7-minute-long “Your Father Was Born a 100 Years Old, and So Was The Nakba” is guided by the imaginary voice of filmmaker Razan AlSalah’s grandmother, who was forcibly expelled from her home in Haifa in 1948. The Nakba, or “great catastrophe,” refers to the displacement of Palestinians in order to create the Israeli state.

The images on Google Street View of a cul-de-sac, apartment buildings, and bus and street signs in Hebrew are worlds away from what the filmmaker’s grandmother lived. The house she lived in is gone, the village well is gone, and when they reach the end of Google Street View and end up on a packed boat, the tourists disgust the woman. “We’re being killed and displaced, and you’re taking pictures?” she asks. “Your Father Was Born a 100 Years Old, and So Was The Nakba” floats through time but has an unshakeable sense of place, and its final glitchy image takes on layers of melancholy meaning.

For a Free Palestine

“Blessed Blessed Oblivion” (2010), dir. Jumana Manna

A sort of combined music video and tone poem, “Blessed Blessed Oblivion” is a miniature Pain and Gain set in the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The men filmmaker Jumana Manna follows are vulgar, joking about Viagra and oral sex. They seem to care only about their cars and their bodies. In visual collages defined by extreme close-ups and quick edits, Manna captures their grimy hands operating tools, their flexing biceps and thighs, their lips clenched around cigarette after cigarette. It’s all overwhelmingly aggro with a self-aware spin from Manna’s “Mr. Vain” backing song, until the narrative takes a turn for the dangerous when Manna’s unnamed protagonist shares stories about abusing his girlfriend and using drugs.

There are stacks of Israeli police reports, a spread of glittering diamond watches, a huge storage room of car parts. Is there illegality here, or just overly masculine performance? And what to make of a man who can passionately recite a poem by the martyred Abd al-Rahim Mahmoud, but who then immediately brags, “We Bedouins, we love to fuck. We cum like rivers”? Manna might not have any answers, but the men she follows are compelling nevertheless.

For a Free Palestine

“A Space Exodus” (2009), dir. Larissa Sansour

Filmmaker Larissa Sansour uses Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as a jumping-off point for her short film “A Space Exodus,” the premise of which seems simple. Sansour, as an astronaut, communicates back with Jerusalem as she reaches the moon. But the power of “A Space Exodus” is in its subversion of our familiarity. There’s the Arab spin it puts on the score of Kubrick’s film, but also the satisfaction of seeing the Palestinian flag (the colors of which were banned when used in Palestinian art by the Israeli government for years) planted firmly and flying free. Here are seven minutes well spent.


For a Free Palestine

“Hreash House” (2004), dir. Rosalind Nashashibi

The shortage of houses thanks to the displacement of thousands of Palestinians as a result of Israeli bombing (74,000 as a result of the May aggression alone), the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes by Israeli settlers (as in the Sheikh Jarrah, which is continuing thanks to the nonintervention of the Israeli attorney general), and the years-long Israeli blockade on building materials means that many families live in multigenerational homes. The 20-minute documentary “Hreash House,” set in Nazareth in 2003, spends a day in one of those homes.

From the inside, the house is a bland concrete block. On the inside, it is decorated with an eccentric array of mismatched bedding, tons of seating to accommodate all family members, and tables upon tables lined up together to hold the platters of food for the Ramadan-fast-breaking feast. Each little detail communicates a sense of camaraderie, but also shared confinement. Three giggling girls sleep together in one bed. A clothesline struggles under the weight of so many hanging clothes. Two women sit in one room together, watching TV while cutting up produce. Two women sit in another room in companionable silence while cutting up more produce.

“Hreash House” practically eschews all dialogue to instead let its visuals of familiarity and intimacy speak for themselves. Women organize and reorganize the array of pots and pans on the stove so everything gets cooked. Separate rooms of men and women partake in the feast. Then, another little table for those three girls, perched on purple plastic chairs as they eat.

Sometimes the family acknowledges the camera, but mostly they don’t. They read the newspaper, they watch TV, they pray, they talk, they eat, and they live their lives. How many days have passed like this, and how many more will continue to pass like this, is the implicit question considered by Nashashibi in this immersive, insightful portrait.

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