No. 5, Fall/Winter2000

Special Issue:
The Arab World

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Middle East Conflict Discussed at Hamptons Fest

Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers find common ground through their work, reports TBS Contributing Editor Janet Fine


The eighth Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), held Oct. 11-15, focused its launch of the "Films of Conflict and Resolution" program with a timely screening of films from Palestine and Israel and discussion with the invited filmmakers.

"It was a coincidence that we chose the Middle East region to start, since documentaries and films from this region are currently very relevant to American audiences," said Hamptons Fest Executive Director Denise Kasell, who worked for two years to arrange the Middle East program, and who travels to Cuba in December to arrange a focus on Cuban film directors for next year. "The festival is committed to present six films annually by young filmmakers whose homelands are torn apart by violence and strife."

The invited filmmakers included Najwa Najjar ("Naim and Wadee'a"), Elia Suleiman ("Cyber Palestine"), and Hanna Elias ("The Mountain") from Palestine and Ilan Yagoda ("Rain"), Tayla Exrahi ("The Jahalin"), and Eran Rilis ("Vulcan Junction") from Israel.

"This forum has provided an important meeting place between both sides, who see that the issues are filmed with remarkable similarity," said Palestinian director Hanna Elias, who also screened a documentary on the making of Sesame Street in Israel and Palestine. "What amazes me is that the enemy could make such movies of tolerance. This moves me to do the same."

The program was sponsored by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Foundation and the Dan and Ewa and Tammy Abraham Foundation of Peace. The HIFF Decade Peace Prize, presented by the Abraham Foundation, awarded a cash prize of $25,000 to Najjar's "Naim and Wadee'a," which deals with the l948 expulsion of Palestinians from Jaffa, focusing on an upper-middle-class couple.

"I felt it is really important to show a different picture of Palestinians and continue humanizing the issue," said 33-year-old Najjar. "There is a constant barrage of news with no names, or few names. But there are names. These are mothers, fathers, these are people who have lives."

Subjects were sympathetic from the Israeli side, like "Rain," which compared the Holocaust refugees in Israel with displaced Arabs, and "The Jahalin," documenting the struggles of the Bedouins to remain nomadic on their land. The Israeli director of "The Jalahlin," Talya Exrahi, said, "I feel direct anger at the Israeli government because I think most of the cards are in their hands, because most of the casualties have been Palestinians. So it's up to them to show goodwill and not to escalate the violence."

Directors expressed surprise at their mutual meeting points, but universally complained about lack of distribution. Susan Siegel, executive producer of "Peace of Mind," telecast on ABC's Nightline, said that she was looking for PBS national distribution.

"These films brought us together. It is not an Israeli or Palestinian film but an issue of belonging and land," said Ezrahi at a panel discussion moderated by Livia Alexander, film curator of Middle Eastern Studies at NYU. "The insights are all the same. With little budget and no infrastructure, we are able to produce films and find an audience at home." The festival featured more than 100 films, documentaries and videos at this resort beach town in Long Island, outside Manhattan. Held at what is known as the home to the stars, the festival has grown into a new outlet for films and programs such as the Conflict and Resolution forum. TBS

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