Gaza Human Rights Film Festival revives Palestinian cinema

Despite last-minute venue cancellation, the Red Carpet festival brings cinema to a Gaza street and the message "I am human" to the world

A SCENE FROM ‘Gaza,’ being screened at the Sundance Film Festival (photo credit: Courtesy)
A SCENE FROM ‘Gaza,’ being screened at the Sundance Film Festival
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of Gaza City’s oldest cinemas had a 100-meter-long red carpet rolled out for a weeklong human rights film festival on Wednesday. Hundreds of Gazans, among them rights activists, attended the opening night.
The Red Carpet Human Rights Film Festival, in its fifth edition, kicked off with an opening address followed by film promotions and a short speech by Irish Representative to Palestine Jonathan Conlon, who expressed his country's support for the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians’ right to live freely and independently. The day ended with a screening of the film Gaza.
The festival showcases 45 human rights films.
Saud Aburamadan, a preparatory committee member, told The Media Line that the theme of this year’s festival, "I am human," has a message to tell. “We want to let the world know that 2 million freedom-craving Palestinians are living under Israeli siege. We love life and we seek dignity, nothing more.”
The festival works in partnership with several other film festivals, including the Karama Human Rights Film Festival in Jordan. This gives Palestinian filmmakers an opportunity to present their films internationally and allows their voices to reach outside the coastal enclave.
The executive director of the festival, Montaser Alsabe', told The Media Line that 40% of this year's films were produced in Europe, while another 40% were made in Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
“We have established a network of 12 festivals in different places, which certainly gives Palestinian film production an opportunity to move a step forward toward universality.”
But the festival was marred by a significant logistical problem. Despite the preparatory committee’s previous announcement that it would be held in the Amer cinema in central Gaza, which was burned by extremists 25 years ago, it actually took place on the street near the main gate of the cinema.
Alsabe' told The Media Line, “We were surprised that the cinema owners retracted their agreement with us at the last minute with no reasons provided. As a result, we decided to have the festival on the street near the cinema, which carried deep symbolism.”
Movie theaters are not new to Gaza; before 1987, 11 cinemas existed in the impoverished strip.
Saed Alswerky, a spokesperson and member of the preparatory committee, told The Media Line that extremist ideologies have deprived Gaza of many cultural expressions.
“Salafists burned Amer cinema a long time ago, believing that such institutions were a result of the Israeli occupation and must be eliminated,” Alswerky said.
He added, "Fortunately, it seems that five years of festivals have played a significant role in changing the old convictions and negative views. That's what matters."
Alswerky elaborated, “Recently, there has been strong recognition of the importance of the image. People started to understand that cinema helps form national cultural awareness and influences whether public opinion condemns or sympathizes with us. We can't blame people who don’t know us; we must show them the other side of us.”
Gaza, which kicks off the festival, describes life in Gaza. The film, directed by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, both from Ireland, was nominated by the Irish Film and Television Academy for an Oscar.
Writer Yousri Alghoul, who attended the event, told The Media Line that the festival represents pluralism in the best sense, saying, “It's time to stop rejecting the other. We need more cinemas, cultural platforms and more opening up to the world.”
He added, “Authorities and the Culture Ministry should recognize that cinema is an extremely important tool of resistance against Israeli occupation. It's our duty to support and revive the cultural scene by building more cinemas.”
Aburamadan agreed, saying, "So many cultural centers and platforms were targeted by the Israeli occupation during wars and escalations, such as Almeshal cultural institution, which was completely destroyed in 2018, so we need active movements to enhance cultural facilities and cinema again.”
On attendee, an older woman who looked enthusiastic while watching the film, told The Media Line, “I can't tell you how happy I feel to watch a movie near the cinema I used to go to a long time ago.”
Another audience member, Reda, said, “I came to the festival with my mom, sister and daughter to see Palestinian-produced films reaching far beyond Gaza’s borders.”
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