Nearly 1,000 people attended the launch of the annual Palestine Cinema Days festival at the Cultural Palace in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.
The 5th edition of the festival is screening in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nablus and Gaza between 17-23 October with more than 60 films from Palestinian, Arab and international filmmakers. Two Oscar nominated films will also be shown throughout the seven days of the festival.
"We believe that cinema is an important tool to raise our voices as a people under occupation and to raise all the voices of Palestinians wherever they are in the refugee camps," Palestine Cinema Days spokesperson Khulood Badawi told MEMO, adding that the festival aims to revive cinema culture in Palestine and encourage the making of Palestinian films.
The festival, which was founded by Filmlab Palestine in 2014, hopes to promote Palestinian resilience in the face of hardship and occupation and to put Palestine on the map of international cinema through a unique programme of renowned international film screenings, along with panel discussions, professional film workshops and networking opportunities for aspiring film directors and actors.
This year's edition of the film festival coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, as well as the United States moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cutting financial aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Organisers see the festival as a tool to amplify Palestinian voices in light of the United States' efforts to diminish the Palestinians' fundamental right of return and their basic rights of freedom and dignity.
Badawi said that the festival launched in Ramallah as opposed to Jerusalem "because most of our audience in the West bank and Gaza are not able to reach the festival in Jerusalem," pointing out the restrictions on movement in Palestine and the hardships Palestinians have been facing for decades as a result of the Israeli occupation.
"Hopefully one day," she continued, "when we [are] free, the opening will be in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, and hopefully we continue to have more and more success."
The festival opened with the screening of the animated film "The Tower" by Norwegian director Mats Grorud. The fiction film is set in Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon. It highlights 70 years of strife since the Nakba in 1948 through the eyes of a curious 11-year-old girl named Wardi who lives with her family in the refugee camp where she was born.
"It is fantastic to be here and have a screening in Palestine," Grorud told MEMO. "I lived in Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in 2001 and what I heard from my friends living there touched me…I wanted to share their stories with the world." He also said that animation helps audiences identify with Palestinians as they relate to us all as human beings.
"My message to kids growing up in the camps is to not lose hope and faith in the future and to keep struggling and fighting for what is right," he continued.
Palestine Cinema Days will also present the Sunbird Award competition this year which was first launched in 2016. Twenty-two films of the 60 films submitted have been selected to compete for the award, including four feature length documentaries, 13 short films and five projects.
The winners will be announced during the closing ceremony on 23 October and will be awarded €2,000 ($2,299).