Cannes Docs Hails Vibrant Palestinian Nouvelle Vague

The four Palestinian docs-in-progress showcased as part of the Marché’s Cannes Docs forum bear testimony to the diversity and creativity of a nouvelle vague of Palestinian filmmakers.

Covering a broad range of topics – ranging from the plight of refugees crossing the Alps from Italy to France, a family of Bedouins forced to leave their dwelling, a mother’s painful decision to leave her country at war or the story of Jenin’s last projectionist – the films selected “are representative of Palestine today”, according to May Odeh, the producer of “The Last Projectionist.”

“It’s like having films from four different countries. Palestinians are everywhere. It’s not about land, it’s about questions that are inside us: We question the refugees in the Alps, modernity and gentrification… we question the future of cinema. This is what I like about Palestinian cinema: it takes a fresh look at a whole new wave of topics through different media.”

In “The Last Projectionist”, the director, Alex Bakri, follows the quest of Hussein, the former projectionist at Jenin’s old cinema theater, as he tries to recover his job when the rundown theatre is renovated by a German NGO.

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“This is not only a documentary about reviving an old cinema or about cultural colonization and gentrification. It’s a cinematic experience that pays homage to the medium itself because the medium is the story. Telling the story from the point of view of the projectionist opened a whole new vocabulary of cinematic expression for me, derived from my own and Hussein’s cinematic baggage, so the film has a lot of tribute and reference to cinematic history,” Bakri said.

Showcasing his film “Alps,” which follows the journey of women and men who help migrants crossing the French-Italian border through the mountains, Belgian-Palestinian director Naël Khleifi – whose previous work includes the documentary “Waiting” (2011), shot in the Jungle of Calais – says there is a growing understanding of what Palestinian cinema is about.

“The world has understood that Palestinians have things to say about themselves,” said Khleifi. “In the past, everyone was talking in the name of Palestinians. In 2021, it’s important to show this diversity because people are finally starting to understand that Palestine is not just a place on a map, but it’s also about cultural belonging, about raising awareness.”

The two other film projects are Asmahan Bkerat’s “Concrete Land,” an intimate look at the lives of a nomadic Bedouin family in its struggle to hold on to its traditional life under the pressures of urbanization; and Yousef Srouji’s “Three Promises,” about a mother who navigates the impossible decision to flee her homeland with her family amid escalating conflict. Using original footage shot by the filmmaker’s own mother during the second Intifada, it recounts the events of Srouji’s childhood.

All four films are looking to close their funding gap, seeking sales and distribution deals and the all-important festival exposure.

Cannes Docs partners with a number of festivals from around the world to showcase docs in completion stage aiming to hit the circuit within weeks or months.

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