For as much as the words “Palestine” and “Palestinian” may appear in the news we consume, rarely are they attached to an exploration of the amazing wealth of art, humanity, and creativity in Palestinian culture. Now entering its eighth year, the celebrated Boston Palestine Film Festival returns with increased vigor. In addition to two world premieres, three U.S. premieres, and three Boston premieres, BPFF features last year’s Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Picture for Omar, the first time the Academy has used the word “Palestine” to describe a film’s origin (2005’s nominee, Paradise Now, was credited to the “Palestinian Territories”).
“I think that there’s been a developing recognition of Palestinian cinema,” says Michael Maria, operations director of BPFF, “and it’s sort of a ball that keeps on growing. I can’t personally point to one particular thing, but I know that Palestinian cinema as a whole is getting more recognition. For example, our opening film May in the Summer opened Sundance just this past year … It seems like more and more of these films are getting recognition and they build on top of one another.”
But the change in perspective hasn’t only come from without. With as many Palestinians currently living outside of the Middle East as inside Palestine and Israel, there are a great many stories to tell from a population that seems to be growing increasingly confident in its artistic voice. Maria points to the fact that every year the festival continues, the films submitted for consideration grow in number and diversity, shifting from majority documentary to this year’s program which includes at least 50 percent narratives. This year’s festival will feature the aforementioned Omar and May in the Summer, with a recurring theme of the struggle to find normalcy in abnormal conditions in Mars at Sunrise and Giraffada. Guests will include the directors of featured films, as well as speakers Tim Schwab, director of Cinema Palestine; director Serene Husni, who will be attending the North American premiere of her first film, Zinco, at the festival; a Skype appearance from trailblazing director Cherien Dabis (May in the Summer, Amreeka), and more.
For Maria and the other organizers, the artistic and social goals of the festival go hand in hand. “[BPFF] is an arts and cultural festival, but it’s also looking to break stereotypes, to bring new perspectives, and to expose the general public to this other side of Palestinian humanity in ways that [Americans] typically don’t get when they’re watching the 5 o’clock news or reading a news article … We want to be a venue for people to see good film. This is about good quality films that should be accessible to anybody.”
BOSTON PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL. MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS. 465 HUNTINGTON AVE., BOSTON. FRI 10.17 – SUN 10.26. FOR SHOWTIMES AND TICKETS, VISIT BOSTONPALESTINEFILMFEST.ORG
BONUS FEATURES: STREAMS
PARADISE NOW (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon)
Both Palestinian nominees for Best Foreign Language Film have been directed by Israeli-born Hany Abu-Assad: last year’s Omar, and 2005’s Paradise Now. Controversy erupted over Paradise Now’s nomination for two reasons: first, its listed country of origin as “Palestinian Territories.” But the primary source of conversation was its risky subject matter, which explores the lives of two childhood friends recruited to become suicide bombers, a massive challenge that it pulls off extraordinarily well. Brave, honest, and aware of the bigger picture of its subject matter with extraordinary attention to detail, Paradise Now is vital cinema.
WALTZ WITH BASHIR (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon)
Israeli director Ari Folman — director of mixed animation/live action sci-fi parable The Congress, which played at IFF Boston and the Brattle this past year — made his international breakthrough with 2008’s Waltz with Bashir. The film follows an animated Folman as he struggles with the effects of his participation in the 1982 Lebanon War on his memory, especially the night of the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre. The film is a massive underground success in Lebanon, where it is officially banned.