We're currently in a worldwide crisis of building walls, as divisions both physical and psychological threaten to splinter and force global populations ever further apart. From Brexit to the president's dangerously misguided plans for a border wall with Mexico, humankind seems more determined than ever to insulate itself from anyone different.
Each year the Witness Palestine Film Festival turns our eyes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to a place where such barriers have caused incalculable harm over the course of decades. The festival presents a series of films, talkbacks, and events that seek to foster change and cultivate empathy. In so doing, it offers a reminder of how important it is to seek out the perspectives of the lives those walls have hurt.
The eighth annual Witness Palestine Film Festival is scheduled for October 14 to November 9, and will include five film screenings, one at St. John Fisher College and four at The Little Theatre.
As has become tradition, the festival will conclude with a "Celebrate Palestine" dinner with an array of Middle Eastern cuisine. That event will also feature a presentation by Boston-based Palestinian-American guest speaker Nadia Abuelezam, creator of Palestinians Podcast and research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Abuelezam will speak about the unifying nature of storytelling and the resilience of the Palestinian people.
The "Celebrate Palestine" dinner will be held on Saturday, November 9, 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Asbury First United Methodist Church (1050 East Avenue). Tickets are $20 at the door, though advance registration is required by November 2. Those planning to attend can contact CelebratePalestine@wpff.us.
A complete schedule with times, locations, and other details may be found at witnesspalestinerochester.org. Tickets for the films shown at The Little are $8 (students $5) and will be available through The Little Theatre box office.
What follows is a brief look at the films being presented at this year's festival.
An undercover investigation by news organization Al Jazeera, the eye-opening "The Lobby USA" delves into the BDS campaign, a nonviolent means for Palestinians and fellow supporters to protest Israel's occupation by boycotting goods originating from that country. One of the film's subjects, activist Summer Awad, will participate via Skype in a post-screening discussion. (Monday, October 14, 6:30 p.m. St John Fisher College, free admission.)
"Firefighters Under Occupation" takes a look at the difficulties faced by firefighters in Palestine, and the ways their already dangerous jobs are made all the more perilous by the occupation. Filmed by Welsh firefighter and filmmaker Ciaran Gibbons in 2015 during a time of increased violence in the region, the film also chronicles the humanitarian support given to Palestinian firefighters by The Fire Brigade Union of the UK. Writer-director-producer Ciaran Gibbons will be in attendance along with one of the firefighters featured in the film, Jim Malone. (Sunday, October 20, 2:30 p.m. The Little.)
The uplifting documentary "Soufra" tells the inspirational story of determined entrepreneur Mariam Shaar, who's lived all of her 42 years in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp just south of Beirut, Lebanon. The film follows Shaar as she embarks on a quest to fulfill her long-held dreams, recruiting women of the camp to help start a small kitchen, from which she hopes to create the first refugee food truck and successful catering company. A Skype Q&A with director Thomas Morgan will follow the screening. (Monday, October 21, 6:30 p.m. The Little.)
"The Great Book Robbery" chronicles the heartbreaking destruction of Palestinian culture, focusing on the theft of tens of thousands of books and manuscripts taken from the homes of expelled Palestinians by officials and Israeli forces after ethnic cleansing operations of 1948-49. Dutch-Israeli filmmaker Benny Brunner join in a discussion via Skype after the film. (Sunday, October 27, 2:30 p.m. The Little.)
Through interviews with veterans, refugees, survivors, and historians, the gripping "1948: Creation and Catastrophe" offers powerful, first-hand, personal recollections of both Palestinians and Israelis, who tell the story of the establishment of Israel by focusing on the events of one pivotal year in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Co-directors Andy Trimlett and Ahlam Muhtaseb will join in a post-film discussion via Skype. (Monday, October 28, 6:30 p.m. The Little.)