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Palestine festival fetes films on life under Israeli occupation | Arts and Culture

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Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Curtains came down on the eighth edition of the Palestinian film festival, with the final screening for the winning films focusing on life under Israeli occupation and in exile taking place earlier this week in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Palestine Cinema Days film festival that celebrates Palestinian filmmakers and films focused on Palestine, awarded sizable monetary prizes, with the top prize of $10,000 granted for film production.

A short film, Siri Miri, meaning “back and forth” in Arabic, was awarded $3,000 and a feature-length documentary, Little Palestine: Diary of Siege, won $5,000, as part of the Sunbird Awards competition.

At least 2,000 people attended throughout the six days of the festival, with screenings across the cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza Strip and Haifa, where some 60 different Arab and international independent fiction, documentary and short films were showcased.

Viewers were taken on a whirlwind of emotions; they ended the first – a short, six-minute film – with laughs, and the second, a documentary, with non-stop tears, and an air of devastation.

Palestinian cinemaAt least 2,000 people attended throughout the six days of the festival, with screenings across the cities of Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza Strip and the Israeli city of Haifa [Abbas Momani/AFP]

While showcasing two very different aspects of Palestinian reality, the films overlap in the emotions they portray and evoke, of being caged in.

Siri Miri, by 23-year-old filmmaker Luay Awwad reflects the dark humour of living under Israeli military occupation.

Two young men, struggling to find something to do for entertainment, ask iPhone’s Siri for suggestions. Presented with a list of activities one would normally be able to do, such as “go on a road trip”, the two friends find themselves unable to do any of the suggestions.

‘Youths will be able to relate’

It ends with Siri’s suggestion: “go to the beach”, after which viewers are presented with a shot of their car being blocked by the Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem. “Siri, baby, we live in Palestine!” one of the youths responds, to which Siri says, ‘Did you mean Pakistan?’ – a common response many Palestinians receive, which left viewers laughing.

Awwad, from the small town of Beit Sahour in Bethlehem, said this film shot in Palestine is the first he has ever made, and that he produced it during his second year as a university student in Bethlehem.

“This movie is the closest thing to me; I’ve been suffering from this problem basically since I became a teenager and started going out to the town. I’m going to turn 24 and I’m still suffering from the same problem – when someone wants to really disconnect and have fun, there’s nothing they can do,” Awwad told Al Jazeera.

“I feel that many youths will be able to relate,” he continued, adding that he was not expecting to win. “I think the judges were really able to understand how much the film is coming from someplace deep, from the spirit of youth here.”

Awwad said he hopes to buy his own camera with the $3,000 to be able to make films. “I feel that the film festival really likes to support youth and people who are still emerging – the prize means a lot to me.”

The second film screened on Wednesday: Little Palestine: Diary of Siege was made by Palestinian refugee Abdullah Khatib. The documentary chronicles the painful daily reality during the Syrian government’s siege on the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria between 2011 and 2015. It tells the story of starvation and bombardment, and of being doubly displaced, first from Palestine and then Syria.

Supporting the film industry

Hanna Atallah, the artistic director for the film festival, told Al Jazeera that the festival takes pride in being able to award such prizes for films focused on Palestine.

“We don’t have a local fund for cinema production, and there are no specialised institutions to support youth who are in the beginning of their journey here, making their first films,” said Atallah. “At least we now have a production prize for Palestinian filmmakers in their country.”

The third and largest prize – a $10,000 production award – is intended to help filmmakers take their scripts through filming, post-production and distribution.

The money for the production award is gathered from the tickets sold for the Palestine Cinema Days festival, Atallah said.

“Everyone in the audience who bought tickets is a producer in this film, and it came from the idea of providing help to one another, to cooperate and collect money for someone who has a film and wants to produce it,” he explained.

The winner of the production award, Amman-based filmmaker Dina Naser, said she feels very grateful. “It’s a type of seed-fund for me to be able to complete the film.”

She told Al Jazeera the prize is particularly emotional for her, because like millions of other Palestinian refugees who settled in Jordan and are blocked by Israel from returning, Naser, 40, has never been able to visit.

“It’s an award from the most important place in my life – Palestine, but which I am forbidden from visiting,” said Naser.

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