In 2008, a group of Michigan students founded the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival, churning out successful productions up through the year 2011. After taking a brief hiatus until 2015, the student organization is back in full swing as it gears up for this week’s 2017 festival.
“These students felt that there needed to be another way to showcase Palestinian art and culture, while also amplifying the voices of Palestinian people and filmmakers,” said co-director Haleemah Aqel, a LSA junior.
Aqel works alongside three other co-directors, LSA sophomore Ben Johnsrude, LSA sophomore Zaina Khoury and LSA senior Lily Shipp. The group also has the additional help of volunteers and faculty.
“Two of us are Palestinian and two of us aren’t,” Aqel said “And even then, we’re not all Arab, so it’s great because you have people coming into this and understanding and engaging with the films differently — we’re learning too.”
Each year, the co-directors spend months reaching out to filmmakers, calling for and collecting submissions. By January, once each film has been watched and reviewed, the team finalizes a set and moves on to tackle fundraising and publicity outreach.
While in other years directors have been assisted by a team of organizers, the group of four has managed to divide and conquer the project among themselves this season.
This year’s festival will showcase 12 recent films over the course of four days, with an even number of short and feature length films. Both documentary and fictional movies will be featured, and it will even include a comedy.
Highlights of the line-up include a film made by a current Palestinian-American University doctoral student, Donia Jarrar, and a film titled “Junction 48,” which is about the first Palestinian rap group in Israel. Additionally, there are two short documentaries, each made by a Palestinian teenage girl, as part of a larger project by the Arab American National Museum. The project, “Real Stories,” follows girls ages 13 through 18, both in Dearborn and Palestine, as they narrate their experiences. An open post-viewing discussion will be held with the directors of each of these two films to discuss their experiences.
Of course, there are challenges when dealing with a place and topic that is highly politically controversial.
“When the word ‘Palestine’ comes into conversation, it always becomes a conversation about politics or war or violence,” Aqel said. “While a lot of these films do cover some of these events, the festival also brings light to and humanizes Palestinian people. It shows that Palestinians are capable of producing art, and though many of them are under the occupation, the festival is used to showcase culture in this environment.”
However, despite room for quarrel, the organization has yet to face any resistance or serious backlash. The festival has been sponsored by a number of academic bodies including the Anthropology, Sociology and Comparative Literature departments, as well as the Residential College and Central Student Government. Other fundraising came from private donors and grants. The group has also received tremendous support and interest from students and professors excitedly awaiting the festival.
“I don’t think that the festival, or that film festivals in general, are the basis to bringing peace or solving the conflict, it’s just there to provide another narrative to the story that may not always be shown,” Aqel said.
The community is invited for an afternoon or evening (or four) of what will be a thoughtful, creative learning experience.