- Photo Ariel view on Israeli apartheid wall cutting though Palestinian lands.
As someone working in the media arts sector, I signed the 500 artist BDS letter along with Cinema Politica’s Executive Director Svetla Turnin. We signed because it was a tangible action that connected art to the resistance against oppression.
We also signed because we feel that too often artists and those working in the arts who are privately critical of Israel take two paths around the issue of Palestine’s occupation: Ignore it all together in their work and their public life, or adopt a liberal stance that argues it is not the role of art to intervene in such matters.
At Cinema Politica we believe it is one of the fundamental—and most transformative—roles of art, and we see our screenings as interventions on a range of important issues, including Palestine.
Connecting art, audiences, and action.
Cinema Politica is a non-profit media arts organization that screens political documentaries and radical film & video at locations throughout Canada and abroad. We are the largest community and campus-based documentary network in the world.
Cinema Politica has as part of our mandate the commitment to providing social, political and cultural space for the showcasing of the stories of the oppressed, marginalized, and dominated majorities of the world. We are also committed to highlighting the stories that are not given sufficient space in the Western media matrix.
So it follows that Cinema Politica screens many films about Israeli apartheid and the struggle of the Palestinian people. Despite the fact that many of these independent films have won international awards, and meet our criteria of anti-racist content, they remain our most controversial.
As professor Yakov Rabkin says in the documentary on Norman Cornett, the McGill prof fired over his class dialogues on Palestine-Israel, “There isn’t an issue that you can so easily lose friends over as the issue of criticizing Israel.”
And we have indeed lost our share of friends. Our local chapter in Woods Hole was booted out of their community screening space for showing Occupation 101. A newspaper ran an entirely irresponsible and damaging headline that connected Cinema Politica to racism. A published letter in another paper stated that Cinema Politica was spreading hatred and dividing the community by screening such films. Here in Montreal an audience member has his letter published in the National Post describing my announcement of the documentary on Norman Finkelstsein as hateful – “with hatred in his eyes” was the quote, along with something to the effect “this is why we have anti-racist laws in Canada.”
I mention these incidents to highlight the ways in which local events and actions connect with larger, sometimes global issues. And Palestine is a global issue that may feel far from home for the Canadian living in relative comfort as most of us do, thousands of kilometres away from the brutal realities of Gaza.
Yet this is what documentary cinema can do: through proximity it can turn information into passion, and solidarity into action. Documentaries draw us into the stories of oppression and struggle that many would not encounter so personally, emotionally, and intensely through other means – including and especially mainstream news.
A committed political documentary film that explores the difficult and complex spaces of occupied Palestine is more than a cultural bridge, it is a political vehicle that pulls us close to those struggling so far away and confronts our comfort and fortifies our commitment. This proximity can transform information into knowledge and the act of witnessing into a deeper, empathic, protracted, and inspired kind of political action.
To cite one example: When our local in Whitehorse screened Occupation 101, the first ever Palestinian activist group formed, born directly out of the event.
So, for every friend we lose, we gain a hundred, maybe more. We know that these “friends,” our audiences, leave our screenings and get involved in political issues in real tangible ways. And that is why we continue to deploy the art of documentary toward the cause of Palestine.
Ezra Winton is the founder and Director of Programming for Cinema Politica a media arts, non-profit network of community and campus locals that screen independent political film and video by Canadian and international artists throughout Canada and abroad. It is volunteer-run and all screenings are by donation.