By Aaron Calvin
Within the span of five days, Columbia University's Center for Palestinian Studies showcased the highest quality films currently being produced in or near this Arabic nation. Beginning Wednesday and ending Sunday, short films and feature lengths were shown depicting the artistic, political and individual conflicts and ideas of Palestine. There were also academic panels and cultural events featured throughout.
Though all of the evenings held promising content, I was only able to attend the events of Saturday night. However, if the two films I saw were indicative of the quality of the films shown throughout the festival, it was most assuredly a success.
The first film of the evening was a fifteen minute long short film, End of September. Made by Sama Alshaibi and Ala' Younis, the film was an interesting display of expressionism depicting the complex combination of the past, present and future worlds in every conflict of the Palestinian world. Though brief and fluid, the film was an eloquent snapshot of a typical Palestinian conflict.
The second film of the night was Salt of This Sea, directed by Annemarie Jacir, a past professor at Columbia University and past curator of the festival. The film followed Brooklyn native Soroya as she returns to her ancestral Palestine, determined to recover the money her grandfather left in the country's banking system before his exile. Immediately, she encounters a suffocating amount of bureaucracy imposed upon her from all sides of the government. After suffering through the many restrictions of the country, including being unable to retrieve her grandfather's money and being unable to gain citizenship, she rallies her newfound friends to help her rob the bank and enter illegally into Israeli occupied territory. Soroya discovers that in her attempt to return to her homeland there is no home left for her return to.
Fast paced and moving, Salt of The Sea marks an important movement in Palestinian and Arabic filmmaking. This movie is part of the third generation of Arabic film, focusing now more than ever on the individual experiences specific to their background and nation. While the film displays the range of emotions produced from Soroya and her fellow Palestinians in Israel, it also humanizes their enemy. Instead of representing the conflict as one-sided and one-dimensional, the movie creates a multi-faceted conflict with complex characters.
The importance of this film festival can be measured not only in the artistic merit of the films, but also in their political relevance. By portraying the conflicts of Palestine at the level of the individual lives it affects, it allows viewers insight into the far-removed battles half a world away.