Recently restored, these five films from Palestine’s revolutionary era are followed by a discussion with filmmaker Azza El-Hassan and academic Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University, both of whom are involved in a project to retrieve Palestinian films from the 1970s and the early 1980s. They will also be joined by Bashar Shammout, sound archivist and restoration director for the Shammout films.
The Flower of all Cities (Zahrat Al-Madain), Dir. Ali Siam, 1969, Palestine, 7 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
Produced as part of a cinematic magazine, The Flower of all Cities provides a rare example of the work of Palestinian photographer and cinematographer Hani Jawharieh (1939–1976), one of the founding fathers of Palestinian Cinema. Using the ‘The Flowers of all Cities’, a famous song by Fairouz, as its soundtrack, the film presents a harmonious picture of Palestinian civil life that is disturbed by the Israeli army’s occupation of the city following the 1967 war with Israel. Although essentially a propaganda film by the Jordanian Ministry of Culture, the film captures the way in which Palestinians and Arabs viewed Jerusalem, and their rage at its occupation by the Israeli army.
Palestine in the Eye, Dir. PLO Film Unit/Mustafa Abu Ali, 1976, Palestine, 28 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
Through interviews with Palestinian filmmakers, family and colleagues, Palestine in the Eye documents the impact of of cinematographer Hani Jawharieh’s death on the PLO Film Unit – and the moment of his death, as shot with his own camera – and elaborates the workings of the Palestine Film Unit and its international connections. Although this film was later attributed to Mustafa Abu Ali, the Film Unit’s method was to describe everyone as a collective of ‘workers’, and this practice is reflected in the film titles, which collectively list the names of all those who participated as a non-hierarchical collective.
The Urgent Call of Palestine, Dir. Ismail Shammout, 1973, Palestine, 5 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
Primarily known for his paintings, Ismail Shammout served as Director of the Cultural Arts Section of the PLO and worked with the organisation’s Film Unit during the 1970s. In this short work, Shammout records a solidarity song by the Palestinian Egyptian singer Zeinab Shaath. The song and the words of Kamal Nasser that break through the ballad continue to hold striking relevance, with lyrics by Lalitha Punjabi.
Glow of Memories, Dir. Ismail Shammout, 1972, Palestine, 12 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
Centring on an elderly Palestinian man, who is also the subject Shammout’s painting Memories and Fire, Glow of Memories acts to unravel his recollections using archival photographs and Shammout’s own painting to tell a story of Palestinian experience and resistance. Using simply a montage of visuals and sounds and avoiding narration, Shammout adopts a style used by early Soviet filmmakers who wished to communicate across language boundaries, creating a non-verbal narrative of the Palestinian cause. Glow of Memories screened at a variety of festivals in the former Soviet Union and was awarded a prize in 1973.
Palestinian Identity, Dir. Kassem Hawal, 1984, Palestine, 40 mins, Arabic with English subtitles
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied its capital Beirut. Kassem Hawal’s film is a rare example of a PLO film made after the Israeli departure from Beirut. It documents the burned and destroyed cultural and educational centres from which the Israeli army stole films, photographs and historical and contemporary manuscripts. It includes interviews with key members of the Palestinian cultural scene – Mahmoud Darwish and Ismail Shammout, and those in charge of cultural and educational centres such as Anni Kanafani – to present a sophisticated intellectual analysis of why Israel focused on the destruction of Palestinian culture. Palestinian Identity represents Palestinian determination to flourish artistically and resist attempts at cultural genocide.