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The DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival Returns

Founded in 2011 by three women — Noura Erakat, Huda Asfour, and Nadia Daar — the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival showcases Palestinian culture from Palestine and the diaspora.In its eleventh year, this fall’s lineup included a double-feature documentary, play, feature films, shorts and a discussion on the art of tatreez: Palestinian embroidery.

One theme that echoed throughout the films was love and border-crossing, with many works questioning: Can love cross man-made boundaries? Can boundaries prevent people from plying the craft they love? Could we come to take boundaries as so omnipresent that they are a part of our emotional milieu like love is?

In “200 Meters,” the opening feature film, a father is separated from his family by 200 meters and an unscalable wall. In a strange riff on “The Great Gatsby,” he says goodnight to his kids with a light show from his balcony. The film sets a somber tone for the slate of features to follow.

The “Fishless Sea” documents the challenge fishermen in Gaza face in sustaining this age-old tradition in the face of the borders erected during the occupation. It leaves us wondering, How can there be borders in something as boundless as Earth’s waters?

Under the Oslo Agreements, the fishing range for Palestinian fishermen was 20 nautical miles. Over the years, however, the Israeli military dramatically reduced this range simply by harassing and jailing anyone who dared to go past the seemingly arbitrary limit. For a brief period, Israel expanded the range to six miles, only to once again reduce it, ostensibly in response to missile fire coming from the strip.

The fishermen are not allowed to go further than 3-4 nautical miles and that very limited perimeter has them mired in depleted waters, where few sardines remain. Abu Alaa’, the patriarch, poignantly talks about taking out a bank loan so his oldest son can get married. Despite what is clearly economic violence, he and his family remain stoic in the face of it, with the past continuing to live in their hearts, albeit spoken of wistfully. “The sea is all they know,” he says, and he remains anchored there, despite the invisible but stark chains the state has placed in his path.

The Bride Dress,” similarly, is the story of how checkpoints box something as intensely human as marriage in a checkmate. The film captures the journey of two Palestinian brides, Lubna and Sumoud, who share the same wedding dress and the same challenge of having their grooms there for their weddings. A political prisoner, Sumoud’s fiancé watches his engagement party on video from behind bars.

Lubna’s groom, denied an entry permit, has to be smuggled into Nazareth. What could be perhaps shocking to a Western audience is that this situation is not uncommon. Israel currently has a 18-year-old ban on family reunification, known as the Citizenship Law. The family reunification ban was passed in 2003 as a temporary security measure in the wake of the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada. The law has been renewed every year since. This law keeps some married couples permanently apart. As one of the women in the documentary puts it, “It is easier for me to marry a foreigner than to marry someone from the West Bank or Gaza.” “This is sick, but what can we do?”

In both of these documentaries, we see very little overt pathos or polemics; it is almost as if the characters have internalized these borders and found a way to resist them by holding on to celebrations ever so staunchly and bravely. In a scene where Lubna tries on her wedding dress for the first time, her family invites her fiance Abdallah to take a selfie as it might be the only photo they have from their wedding day if he is not able to come. Lubna’s mother reassures her with “I hope your groom will come, honey,” in a scene so poignant in its banality. Clearly, this is a fate that is felt by others, too.

Both of these documentaries also portray life in occupation in all its surprising normalcy. In The Bride Dress, we are treated to many scenes of the pre-wedding festivities, such as the dolma rolling party and the henna hand-painting, along with the singing of traditional songs. We see the bride and her family going through the same universal trepidations of leaving one’s family and starting on a new chapter of one’s life. The films offer such a rich, engrossing immersion of everyday life behind borders.

Though the festival was October 21-24, you can still stream the films on other platforms, and support the DCPFAF through volunteering and donating.

To learn more about the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival, visit dcpfaf.org. Follow the festival on Instagram @dcpfaf.

 

A Spotlight on The DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival

My article for District Fray Magazine

For the past 10 years, the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival has celebrated Palestinian culture. It has been an umbilical cord to a motherland that increasingly lives on only in the hearts and minds of its people driven into diaspora. The festival has not only been a border-defying place to hear often-unheard voices, but it has preserved traditions imperiled by extinction. It has reaffirmed a sense of identity and community for Palestinians the world over, and offered a look behind forbidding walls.

Founded in 2011 by three women – Noura Erakat, Huda Asfour, and Nadia Daar – it has showcased both local and international artists and been hosted by Busboys and Poets, the Kennedy Center, the Goethe Institute, and Studio Theatre. This year, like the diasporic culture it represents, it has gone beyond the confines of a space and into the virtual realm. Though the festival ran from October 1-10, you can still stream the films, watch the lectures, and support through volunteering and donating.

The festival has highlighted a variety of creative mediums. This past summer, the organization hosted four cooks who offered free cooking and culinary history lessons for Sufra Sundays. Two female Palestinian DJs played free sets this year, and previous years have offered Dabke dancing lessons and breakdancing.

One of the highlights of the festival was Tatreez & Tea. Wafa Ghnaim, the author of the book “Tatreez & Tea” and the creative mind behind Palestinian embroidery workshops, explains the origins.

“I started Tatreez & Tea in 2015 as an oral history documentation project,” Ghnaim says. “My mother has been teaching tatreez since she came to the United States in the 1980s and, before that, she taught at refugee camps.”

Tatreez is an Arabic word meaning embroidery. Palestinians are renowned for their cross-stitching, which shines amongst the already very rich textile traditions of the Levant.

“I learned tatreez, not embroidery,” Ghnaim adds. “To say ‘tatreez’ is a true reclamation of the practice.”

In the Palestinian tradition, tatreez is passed down from mother to daughter. This is why it is such a strong thread to family and identity.

“Initially, I never saw it as a special skill because I learned tatreez when I was a young child. It was just such a natural thing and something that was always around me. My mother had dreamt of writing a book, and I wanted to make her dream a reality.”

In 2015, Ghnaim applied to a number of grants and received every one of them.

“I was a no-name coming on the scene. My mom was really the traditional artist and cultural worker. I took this as a sign that I should really do this.”

The festival’s intersectional orientation is another way in which it differs from other festivals. Bhasma Ghalayini, the editor of “Palestine +100: Stories from a Century After the Nakba,” shares the process of creating this first anthology of Palestinian science fiction.

“When I was growing up in the Gaza Strip, we had very limited access to books or films,” Ghalayini says. “You had to ask people traveling abroad to bring you back those things. I was working as a translator for Comma Press, a British publishing company, which had released “Iraq + 100,” a book that posed the question of what Iraq would look like in 2103. I wanted to do a similar project with Palestinian writers. The Nakba in 1948 displaced 700,000 Palestinians. This catastrophe that all Palestinians have a connection to seemed like an appropriate date on so many levels.”

Sci-fi is a new genre for the writers featured in the collection.

“We are not used to writing about anything in an imaginative context because it feels like it is almost too much of a luxury to write about the future,” Ghalayini adds. “But if you think about it, the current situation has all the makings of a dystopian future: siege, surveillance, lack of resources and water, pollution.”

The DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival offered a diversity of perspectives, and a thoughtfully and lovingly curated glimpse of talent and creativity that bursts beyond any physical walls. Learn more about the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival and like the festival on Facebook.