Permission to narrate: Palestinians tell their stories at the 6th annual Cinema Days film festival

The Ramallah cultural palace was humming with anticipation. Hundreds had gathered to watch the award-winning 2019 comedy It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman. A Palestinian entry at the Cannes Film Festival, as it will be at the Oscars later in the year, Suleiman’s film duly kicked off the 6th annual Palestine Cinema Days organised by FilmLab: Palestine.Launched in 2014 by now-artistic director Hanna Atallah, the goal of FilmLab: Palestine and the festival is to give Palestinians the platform and tools necessary for telling their stories, all while reviving the cinema culture in Palestine.“Hanna Atallah believed in building an audience for cinema,” FilmLab executive director Brigitte Boulad told MEMO . Boulad explained how the first few years attracted just a couple of hundred people, mainly friends and family related to the production team.“Last year it was a moment of glory to see young people waiting in line to buy tickets,” she added. Last year was also the first year that the Cinema Days festival sold tickets upon entry as a part of its new Sunbird award. The event at the cultural palace was sold out last night, Wednesday, forcing the organisers to open up a second venue in Ramallah just days before the screening, which also sold out.All ticket sales from the eight-day event across seven cities in historic Palestine will go to a winning production. Nine documentary-style films are in the running, all telling a unique story about the lives of Palestinians. READ: The fifth annual Big Ride takes the Palestine issue onto the streets of London  “It’s something nice to bring our whole family to, something to take pride in,” explained Terry Boullata, who travelled from Jerusalem to attend last night’s event. “We need to build a cultural identity for the new generations.”Boullata pointed out the significance of creating a cinema culture in Palestine, especially in terms of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. “Cinema is about cultural exchange in seeing our humanity,” she said. “We always say ‘see things in order to believe them’ and with cinema you can see other people’s experiences.”Sixty films will be screened in total, split between Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Gaza and — a new venue this year — Nazareth. With the Palestinians in Gaza under siege and the Israeli-imposed permit regime around the West Bank, a multi-city film festival is necessary to ensure inclusivity.“I think no festival in the world knows what it means to organise a festival in Palestine,” noted Boulad. “The mobility issue is really paralysing. People cannot travel, so we try to bring the meaningful people to Palestine and start a conversation.”This year, nearly 60 esteemed international cinema industry professionals —from film festival organisers and producers to act ...Read more

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