Montreal: Palestine onscreen

January 16th, 2009 | Posted in Boycott, Canada, Palestine, Quebec
    Montreal Mirror. by Matthew Hays.

    Photo: Israeli bombings over the Gaza Strip.

It’s an old adage in the film business that timing is everything, but the coincidence involving the Palestinian Perspectives documentary film series showing in the next couple of weeks at the Cinémathèque is truly odd.

The series, which features several different docs on issues facing Palestinians, screens on the next two consecutive Fridays at the Cinémathèque québécoise. The films were chosen and programmed last year, long before the current Gaza offensive by the Israeli military. “Now it’s become a crisis,” says Mary Ellen Davis, a filmmaker and co-programmer of the event. “But even before this, every day, the Palestinians have been under siege. They’ve been dealing with checkpoints, new settlements and the wall for some time now.”

The film series features a range of docs, which look at various issues, from agriculture to checkpoints to the daily travails of life in the territories. La Couleur des oliviers, a Mexican-Palestinian co-production, looks at how crucial the olive business is to Palestinian farmers. And Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof gives us a cinema verité glimpse into what life looks like for ordinary Palestinians. Local filmmakers Brett Story and Stefan Christoff also contribute with Roads Through Palestine, and Davis’s own effort (co-directed with José Garcia-Lozano and Will Eizlini) A Day in Palestine screens as well.

Davis says she and her co-programmers liked the idea of bringing in perspectives from Gaza, but this, she says, is close to impossible. The media’s perspectives on Gaza are being tightly controlled by Israeli forces, who understand completely that how international journalists cover the conflict will have everything to do with winning public favour for their military actions. “When I was shooting my film there in 2003 and 2004, the Israeli government wouldn’t give me a press pass to go into Gaza, despite my having a letter from the CBC. They have tried to reduce the amount of press attention to the issue.”

Now the situation is even more extreme, with no journalists allowed into Gaza whatsoever. And while there are embeds in various Israeli military units, all of that footage is censored before heading out for broadcast. “This raises a lot of questions about just how democratic Israel really is. There really isn’t enough information coming out of Gaza.”

Davis reports that the Palestinians are “a remarkably optimistic group of people, given what they face every day. You see them on television or read about them in the papers usually as a statistic, but when you meet them yourselves, it’s different. I have also been very impressed with the Israelis who work in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Davis wonders how long the self-defence line will work for the Israeli government in the court of public opinion. “How many Israelis were killed by rocket fire in the past year? I mean, obviously, they shouldn’t be firing off the rockets, but I think it’s about six people. Now over 900 Palestinians are dead. There’s no comparison.”

And Davis says she holds out some hope for the new Obama administration, but also worries about a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “She hasn’t made any statements that are compassionate to the Palestinians. We can only hope things will improve.”

Palestinian Perspectives Screens
Friday, Jan 16th and Friday, Jan 23rd
at the Cinémathèque québécoise

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