Seeing “Through” The Wall: Palestine’s Al-Rowwad Outdoor Film Festival

Curator's Note

Established in 1998 by Abdelfattah Abusrour, the Al-Rowwad Center for Culture and Arts is credited with organizing the first outdoor film festival in Palestine’s West Bank. The center, which is located in Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp, appropriates Israel’s separation wall as a projection screen for its festival. Though a number of scholars have written about graffiti murals on the wall as a form of creative resistance to Israeli occupation, less attention has been paid to the phenomenon of using the wall as a screen for projecting film in a territory where movie theaters are few and far between and travel restrictions prevent the vast majority of Palestinians from moving freely within and outside of the West Bank and Gaza.

The attached video clip is a shortened version of a video uploaded to YouTube by Al-Rowwad, and shows footage from their Second Outdoor Film Festival held in 2008. What interests me here is that the festival featured Annemarie Jacir’s Salt of This Sea, a moving narrative about a Palestinian-American woman’s imperfect return to Palestine. While the film’s road movie structure demonstrates the physical obstruction of movement of Palestinians within the Occupied Territories, the spatial constructions in Salt of This Sea are often marked by wide shots and sweeping pans of the landscape that pass over and beyond the separation wall, suggesting a territorial unification of Israel-Palestine and a refusal to accept the imposition of borders and checkpoints. At the same time, Jacir destabilizes the idea that historic Palestine can be recovered or returned to; she does so by intentionally including footage of construction vehicles at work that continue to erase the remnants of Palestinian villages throughout the region. By disallowing her characters a satisfactory return to Palestine, Jacir acknowledges the impossibility of returning to an idyllic, pre-occupied past. However, this acknowledgement is not one of defeatism. Instead, Salt of This Sea works towards imagining a different kind of resistance to occupation and erasure by continuing to cultivate a thriving cultural memory that keeps the evidence of Palestine alive; the film itself acts as a preservation of Palestine, at the same time that it reveals the continuing loss of land and nation.

By filming on location in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramallah, and Haifa, Jacir is able to filmicly preserve and reunite Palestine as a contiguous nation, while offering a cinematic return from exile to her viewers. These images are given added affective power from the film’s projection onto the real separation wall that dissects the West Bank. Al-Rowwad’s screening creates a kind of mise-en-abyme; attendees were able to see the filmed wall projected onto the real wall, as well as what lies beyond, symbolically allowing the audience to see “through" the wall. Al-Rowwad’s outdoor film festival provides the opportunity to consider not only the role of film in imagining Palestine, but also how such imagining is cultivated and received by / in the particular space in which a film is viewed.

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