Palestinian Heritage Comes to Life at Reel Palestine Film Festival

Attendees lining up for the screening of Farha in Cinema Akil at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 29 Jan, 2022. (AUD/Heba Alhamarna).

Taking over the streets of the cultural district of Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, the Reel Palestine Film Festival (RPFF) returns for its 8th edition, winning the hearts of fans with award-winning movie screenings, workshops with directors, and many more activities.

Hosted by the Emirate’s premier arthouse Cinema Akil, the festival runs from January 28 through February 6 and also presents a Souq (marketplace) for visitors to shop from and explore Palestinian products.

Darin J. Sallam after the screening of her film Farha at Cinema Akil at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 29 Jan, 2022. (AUD/Heba Alhamarna)

Darin J. Sallam, the award-winning Jordanian director of the feature film Farha, said: “I’m really pleased by the screening in Reel Palestine and Cinema Akil as it matches the aesthetic of the movie, especially that you have audiences that are interested in viewing this type of film.” Fans expressed their love towards the film in a heartfelt Q&A session after the screening as one stated, “This is a brilliant movie! We were all in tears, it provoked a spectrum of emotions from joy to grief to anger to a brilliant sense of resilience to being a Palestinian.”

Sallam’s first debut feature Farha (2021) tells the story of a young girl whose path in life changes from pursuing an education in the city to surviving the attacks on her village in 1948 Palestine. The story is inspired by real events. “People were touched, and this is exactly why we [filmmakers] do movies.” The film covered a range of sensitive narratives, including survival, warfare, and the true symbolism of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. Sallam, 33, found a great response from fans worldwide, with the world premiere of the film screening last September at the Toronto film festival (TIFF). “I walked in wanting to influence people, and their reactions ended up influencing me!” The film is available until February 4 in Cinema Akil.

Nadia Rouchdy (Archive).

The Egyptian-Canadian co-founder of RPFF, Nadia Rouchdy, said “we started about nine years ago, and we started with the intention of showing Palestinian narratives.” With over 17 Palestinian film festivals globally, RPFF presents itself as the first and only such event in the Middle East to provide access to Palestinian films. Rouchdy, 36, believes that “there is a really big thirst for Palestinian storytelling beyond what we see and in different facets of storytelling and character development.”

Attendees of the festival can also enjoy a stroll through the festival’s souq, which hosts up-and-coming Palestinian businesses displaying their products. Najia Qazi, a 29-year-old Pakistani attendee, said that “the best part is the showcasing of different work by Palestinian artists, to know more about the culture, and not just through social media.” The souq has a wide selection for attendees to shop from, ranging from olive oil to custom-made embroidery.

Participating in the festival for its second year in a row, Jenin, a Dubai-based Palestinian business, set up shop on the grounds of Alserkal Avenue, with the prospect of creating genuine connections with people. According to Aziz Khatib, founder of Jenin, “RPFF is the perfect place to meet my perfect customer as you get to make real conversations that build connections with the people in the community.” His one-man-show business has the motto of “allowing people to have a little taste of Palestine.” Selling olive oil, zaatar (thyme), and other products from the Palestinian heritage, Khatib believes that his business has the advantage of providing customers with home-grown food from his own family’s farm back in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank. “What’s so great is that you get to create a connection with the owners of the land; each olive is picked by my cousins and supervised by the whole Khatib family.” Gian Franco, a 64-year-old Italian visitor at the festival, expressed admiration for Jenin’s efforts. “This is our way of supporting Palestine, purchasing olive oil from local farmers from places such as Jenin.”

Aziz Khatib, founder of Jenin explaining more about the products Jenin offers to a festival visitor at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 29 Jan, 2022. (AUD/Heba Alhamarna).

Saif Shabaneh, a 27-year-old Palestinian, who is currently working as a volunteer for his fifth time at the festival, encourages everyone to partake in volunteering for the festival. “Being a human, other than a Palestinian, is what should drive you to volunteer. They keep adding more cultures to the festival, leading more people to be aware of the situation in Palestine.”

With over 17,000 annual visitors, Rouchdy highlights the festival’s importance to the public. “It’s inspirational to see what this festival can do to people, how they can inspire them, and I think we need to continue this as much as possible and make sure everybody gets a chance to attend and see these films.”

Heba Alhamarna

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