The seventh annual DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival opens its doors on October 5-8, 2017, lining up a dynamic selection of films, live performances, and expert discussions. Since the festival debuted seven years ago, organizers have worked to bring diasporic Palestinian-Americans closer to home and showcase diverse Palestinian identities and narratives through 97 screenings and 23 panels thus far.
This year, “our themes are trauma and memory,” said festival curator Michael Kamel. For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, trauma has touched nearly every facet of their lives; whether through experiencing home demolitions, displacement, harassment at checkpoints, or the brute force of unchecked Israeli firepower. One common traumatic experience Palestinians endure is Israeli imprisonment, the subject of the festival’s opening feature film Ghost Hunting by Raed Andoni’s.
As of August, 2017, the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, reported that there are 6,279 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including 300 children and 465 prisoners held without charge or trial, a practice Israeli authorities describe as “administrative detention.”
Earlier this year, a joint statement by Palestinian rights groups, issued to mark Prisoners Day on April 17, estimated that over 800,000 Palestinians have experienced a form of Israeli imprisonment since 1948, when Israel was established and 750,000 Palestinians were subsequently expelled from their homes.
The memory of these tragedies continues to be felt in nearly every Palestinian home. For its part, Ghost Hunting unpacks only a thread of these memories for a group of Palestinian ex-prisoners who reenact their imprisonment and interrogation by Israel. The screening is followed by a panel on political prisoners. “We want to problematize the normalization of this trauma and violence” to understand what mass incarceration means in this context and how it shapes Palestinian lives, said Nusayba Hammad, festival Managing Director.
The festival lineup of films stands out for its selection of short films featuring the creative potential of Palestinian filmmakers and musicians. The music history of Palestine is depicted through three films providing a glimpse into Palestinian music production and memory from the early 20th century to the vibrant indie music scene of today.
Highlighting the connection between the trauma of displacement and intergenerational memory, Razan Saleh’s short film, Your Father Was Born 100 Years Old, and So Was the Nakba, takes viewers on a journey through the land of her ancestors, tracing the streets where her family once lived using Google Maps. Similarly, Gaza: A Gaping Wound, a multimedia web-based documentary, adds to this creative exploration of trauma and memory while sharing the stories of ten families whose lives were dramatically affected by the Israeli offensive, known as Operation Protective Edge, against the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.
Kamel believes that these short films are a testament to Palestinian creativity and ability to shine a light on their lives. Screening these films “allows us to empower Palestinian film makers. We are happy to provide these creative and young producers with a platform to showcase their work,” he said. These short films reveal to viewers that there is an immense Palestinian voice that has long been marginalized, a theme discussed in another thread of films looking at the portrayal, and indeed “production” of Palestinians on and off screen, Hammad added.
In addition to delivering on-the-ground Palestinian experiences through film, the festival has room for those who may not be familiar with Palestinian affairs. Amreeka is a timely and endearing feature-length film that captures the experience of an immigrant Palestinian family in the U.S. with racism, xenophobia, and the difficult journey immigrants often face.
The festival will also host live events including Palestinians Podcast and a dance performance of Palestinian traditional dabke. These live events promise not only to rejuvenate the connection of diasporic Palestinians to their ancestral home and culture, but also to inspire the audience at large, Palestinian and non-Palestinian alike, to build bridges through dance and relatable stories told by Palestinian-Americans. As Kamel put it, “not everybody is a filmmaker, but everybody has a story to tell.”