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Resistance through film: Palestinian fests on the rise

In a world full of film festivals when so many countries have annual celebrations of their homegrown movie cultures it is something of a surprise to learn that films from occupied Palestine command at least six yearly festivals of their own.

Outside of the more established Arab film fests at Cairo, Marrakesh, Beirut and now Dubai, which held its inaugural celebration of film last December, in New York and London, Ramallah and Jerusalem and even the Canary Islands, films made by Palestinians and on the subject of Palestine are being shown to an increasingly wide audience.

Some features, perhaps most famously Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention," have received massive attention and success at both Cannes and the Hollywood Oscars. Today one of the most prominent of Palestinian film festivals, perhaps the most important for its quality of programming and wide reach, and one which is about to enter its fourth year of existence, is calling for films for its 2005 edition.

The Chicago Palestine Film Festival (CPFF), which screens in April, is an independent, non-profit, non-sectarian project based in Chicago that exhibits and promotes films by Palestinian directors and films about Palestine. A committee of volunteers - students, professionals, and artists - who share a common desire to promote Palestinian filmmakers and films about Palestine to the widest possible audience, organizes the CPFF annually. The fact that many of the CPFF's films - from documentaries and shorts to full length features - of 2004 went on to bigger and better things (Hany Abu Assad's "Ford Transit," which toured international festivals, and Annemarie Jacir's "Like Twenty Impossibles," which was recently shown in Dubai), is a major achievement for the CPFF. But perhaps a major reason why this festival stands out is due to its dedication to presenting works that are open, critical and reflective of the culture, experience and vision of the filmmakers themselves to a specifically American audience that is not always aware of the complex and depressing situation that is life for the majority of Palestinians.

This and the fact that more and more young and old Palestinians alike are quickly and intelligently embracing new film technology with which to document their lives and finding help to do so and an arena in which to present their work. Despite devastating conditions and limits on their movement, the four year old intifada and the new Israeli wall of division, or maybe because of this situation, Palestinians continue to live, produce and resist. It helps that media production technology has become radically more accessible due to the affordability and quality of the digital video camera and computer editing tools. In a land where the Israeli occupation can keep people caged in their homes for weeks on end such technology and accessibility makes a world of difference.

This year one of the films the CPFF will be showing is Jacqueline Salloum's "SlingShot HipHop: The Palestinian Lyrical Front," to which the festival committee awarded funding to finish. "I'm incredibly honored to be the first recipient of the CPFF Completion Fund Award. As an Arab it means a great deal to have community support, especially from the CPFF" said Salloum in press release on the CPFF website. "This award will help me to complete 'SlingShot HipHop,' a film that brings unheard voices of struggle through a type of music that has the ability to carry a message beyond any other form of resistance." The film focuses on the daily life of Palestinian rappers living in Gaza, the West Bank and inside the Green line and aims to spotlight alternative voices of resistance within the Palestinian struggle and explore the role their music plays within their social, political and personal lives.

Beirut,01 10 2005
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