Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival
Today through Saturday
Various locations
Free-$10

For the most part, the world has had little exposure to the cinema of Palestine. The 2005 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, “Paradise Now,” is arguably the most famous movie from Palestine, but in recent years, the region has developed its share of notable films. Such films will be on display starting tonight at the first Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival. The four-day event will feature a selection of short films and full-length movies depicting the culture and conflict of Palestine.

Festival founder and co-director Hena Ashraf is a 2008 University graduate, so it was an easy decision for her to choose Ann Arbor to host the event.

“Ann Arbor is a really good place to have a Palestine Film Festival,” she said. “The town is liberal, progressive and there’s a lot of open dialogue. Ann Arbor represents a place where people can openly discuss (Palestinian) issues.”

Ashraf hopes to dispel common views of Palestine by bringing Palestinian films to a local audience.

“I think the reason why so many people misunderstand Palestinians is because if you just watch the regular news networks, they are not fair and objective,” she said. “Palestinians are not given a voice.”

“Media plays a huge role in this bias, and Hollywood movies do that, too. The best way is to counter that through films made by Palestinians. You should see what they have to say about their country and culture.”

In recent years, films from Palestine have been making big splashes at international film festivals. The Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival’s opening night film, “Salt of This Sea,” was selected for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The movie follows an American-born daughter of Palestinian refugees as she returns to her family’s home, which is now in Israel. Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir is becoming a leading voice in Palestine cinema, having already earned a 2003 Cannes selection with short film “Like Twenty Impossibles.”

Other selections include “Driving to Zigzigland,” a tale about a Palestinian cab driver in Los Angeles, and “Leila Khaled Hijacker,” an introspective documentary on a member of a Palestinian liberation group who became the first woman to successfully hijack a plane. The festival will also showcase a variety of short films, from “Make A Wish,” where a Palestinian girl must overcome several obstacles to find money for a birthday cake, to the music video “People Not Places,” inspired by a Palestinian emigrant’s reflection on homesickness.

“Slingshot Hip-Hop” is another film screening at the festival that has recently garnered a lot of attention. The documentary entered the global spotlight after its premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It follows a group of Palestinian rappers as they pursue their love of hip hop amidst the political strife in Gaza and the West Bank. “Slingshot Hip-Hop” will headline the festival’s closing night on Saturday.

Ashraf plans to hold the festival as an annual event in Ann Arbor.

“The first year it was difficult, but it will become easier and easier,” she said. “We have a lot of support from sponsors, metro Detroit and people across the country that are really happy we’re doing this.”

The Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival begins tonight at the Michigan Theater. It continues tomorrow in the Natural Science Auditorium, Friday in the Michigan League Ballroom and concludes Saturday at Rackham Auditorium.

More information can be found at http://www.a2palestinefilmfest.org.

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