The Houston Palestine Film Festival (HPFF) is gearing up for its ninth year beginning on May 8, 2015. As excited I am to know that such an event exists, that too in my hometown of Houston, TX, I wanted to know more about the founding of this festival.
I was able to reach out to the organizers behind it and the director of the film festival, Khalil AbuSharekh willingly agreed to be interviews. My very first question to him had to do with what brought about the founding of such a film festival:
“The Houston Palestine Film Festival started back in 2006, and the main objective was to shed light on Palestine and its diaspora through film. We believe in film as a strong tool used to expose Palestinian culture and arts to a wider audience, because of its universality; that is, everyone understands the power of visuals and images in portraying cultures and identities.”
Houston, historically, hasn’t exactly been known for its film festivals or its arts scene so much. Yes, there is a thriving museum district but New York City and Los Angeles tend to be much more popular locations for artists hoping to become recognized on an international level.
“Houston is a city known for its diversity,” says AbuSharekh. “You will find a lot of people coming from different parts of the world to live here, and at the same time, they have the curiosity to learn more about other cultures. That’s what makes our screenings so interesting; because you don’t just get the Palestinians to watch your films, you also get people from other parts of the world to be part of your events. In my opinion, this enriches the whole film screening experience, especially when you have a film discussion afterwards, where each one of the audience would pour in from their own background and experience. There are other similar festivals taking place in different American cities, such as the Boston Palestine Film Festival, Chicago Palestine Film Fest, and the Washington DC Palestine Film Festival.”
With the recent on goings of Palestine, some of the films do touch on the subject of the struggle but not all do. Others focus on aspects of Palestinian life that may as well have taken place in any other country of the world. It’s a strong reminder that as humans, most of our daily struggles are similar rather than different.
“After almost 9 years of screening films that tackle different Palestinian stories from different perspectives, we hope that we will reach a bigger audience that has never been exposed to the idea of Palestine, in the Houston area in specific, as well as in the U.S. We also hope to change people’s perception of Palestine as a place that just witnessed wars and conflicts through the last seven decades. We want to show Palestine as place where people go to work, get married, plant their yards, have children, fight over little problems. We want to show Palestinians as human beings like everyone else in this world. At the same time, we have to keep on reminding the world that Palestinians are also going through a struggle, and facing life difficulties in addition to occupation.”
AbuSharekh continues, “It is important for filmmakers tackling the issue of Palestine to tell the stories of people living under occupation, because storytelling is a powerful tool used to shed light on such issues, including occupation and political struggle. While lots of filmmakers are shying away from focusing solely on the long term struggle of Palestinians and instead, concentrating on peoples’ day to day stories, you can still find elements and symbols that refer to the Palestinian struggle. These festivals are also a good opportunity for people to watch films and then hold discussions about it, and those discussions usually help in understanding the idea of any film from different points of view, especially if the filmmaker is attending. Since the Palestinian struggle is a topic that tends to be present at every Palestinian film in one way or the other, I can say that festivals play a major role in educating the audience about such struggle, but from a cinematic point of view.
So which films are exactly lined up for this year?
AbuSharekh tells us, “This year, we have a unique lineup of films. On our opening night, which is May 8, we will screen ‘The Wanted 18’ by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan, an animated film about how 18 cows in the West Bank were considered at some point during the first intifada a threat to Israel’s security. We will also be showing ‘Villa Touma,’ by Suha Arraf, which tells the story of three sisters, who lived their lives isolated from the rest of the world. One day, their niece arrives to live with them, changing their routine drastically. We have an interesting documentary, ‘1913: Seeds of a Conflict,’ which talks about the period at the beginning of the 20th century when Jews, Muslims and Christians were living harmonically in Palestine. Our closing night will feature the film ‘Eyes of a Thief,’ by Najwa Najjar, which tells the story of a Palestinian prisoner who was just released from prison, and starts a journey of looking for his daughter. We will also be showing a number of shorts, features and documentaries starting from May 8 until May 23 for three consecutive weekends.”
If you would like to attend the HPFF, visit their website www.hpff.org for ticket information, timings and more details about the films and their creators.
The organizers of HPFF encourage discussions about cinema and invite everyone to participate in the conversation via Twitter by using the hashtag #HPFF2015, or tweet them directly at @HoustonPFF.