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Festival Displays Palestinian Films

By Meredith S. Steuer, Crimson Staff Writer

In one of the first scenes of “The Roof,” directed by Kamal Aljafari, the camera pans slowly over an unfinished roof. That roof is later revealed to be the narrator’s childhood home in a Palestinian neighborhood in present-day Israel. Aljafari’s movie was one of the films featured prominently at the second annual Boston Palestine Film Festival, which took place this past weekend at the Harvard Film Archive and other venues around Boston.

“This year the focus was on the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Palestine was divided, over 500 villages were destroyed or emptied out, and the biggest and longest current refugee situation was created,” said Salma Abu Ayyash, a member of the organizing committee for the festival.

The Nabka was the central theme in “The Roof,” an experimental documentary which Aljafari shot to show his family’s experience after fleeing their home. After their house was destroyed, Aljafari’s family was forced into another Palestinian neighborhood where they lived in the home of another fleeing family. The second floor of the home was still being built at the time of the Nabka, and Aljafari’s family left it unfinished, feeling that it was not right to complete someone else’s renovations and that the roof belonged to the past.

“The Roof” was screened twice at the HFA, and other screenings in the festival took place at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Coolidge Corner Theater, Northeastern University, and Boston College. This was the first year that Harvard participated in the festival, incorporating some of the pieces into the normal HFA programming.

David Pendleton, programmer at the HFA, says that Aljafari is an important young filmmaker. When asked about the particular strengths of the selection for the film festival, he said, “One of the most striking aspects of ‘The Roof’ is the important sense of place that the film gives the spectator. The film is just as much about what is seen as what is not seen. His use of camera movement documents a sense of place that is both present and unreachable.”

Pendleton says that Aljafari’s creative juxtaposition of shots of the family going about their everyday business with rapidly moving images of explosions playing behind them on the television screen is particularly memorable. The scene seems to speak to the superficial images of violence that fully constitute Palestine in the minds of many Americans.

The festival’s organizers sought to counteract what they see as a one-sided portrayal of Palestinians in news media. “The Palestinian narrative is missing from the mainstream here in the USA, where all we get is second-hand processed images whose purpose is to dehumanize Palestinians. We hoped to present an alternative,” Ayyash said. “We are inundated with information about the Middle East and especially Palestine and the Palestinians, but most people lack an understanding of the situation.”

For many filmmakers, the festival helped provide valuable exposure and a venue for their art. “Palestinian cinema deserves a festival and a venue on its own merit regardless of the political atmosphere that surrounds it,” Ayyash said. “This medium of film is an art form that can help interested people really understand the human conditions of another group of people that seem so far and removed from them.”

Despite political tensions and the sensitive subject matter, the organizers hoped that the films would foster a greater depth of understanding among Americans and generate pride in the Palestinian community in Boston. “Film, and especially good films, allow you to reach that understanding and bridge the gaps in your knowledge by building connections through seeing common human experiences even under very different circumstances than ours here in the West,” Ayyash said.

—Staff writer Meredith S. Steuer can be reached at

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