Window on Palestine: Everything about special segment of El Gouna Film Festival

Soha Hesham , Wednesday 20 Dec 2023

Titled Window on Palestine, the special segment of El Gouna Film Festival's (GFF) sixth edition (14-21 December) finds a high interest among attendees of the event.


Following 7 October, the situation in Gaza became unimaginable with all the humanitarian crisis and brutality that is taking place, the siege, killing, and bombing of hospitals, homes, and schools for over 70 days. Many outlets around the world saw that cinema may be one of the best tools to convey a resistance message to the whole world. So after two postponements of GFF due to the war on Gaza, the festival added a Palestinian film section to its activities. 

This special programme for Palestinian films, titled Window on Palestine, encloses ten films: the recently released Al-Ustaz (The Teacher), directed by Farah Nabulsi, and Bye Bye Tiberias (2023), directed by Lina Soualem, as well as older films such as Condom Lead (2013) directed by Arab and Tarzan Nasser; Bela Saqf (Roof Rocking, 2017) by Sina Salimi; Ambulance (2016) by Mohamed Jabali; Not Just Your Picture (2019) by Dror Dayan and Anne Paq; Drawing for Better Dreams (2015) by May Odeh and Diaa Azzeh; Shujayya (2016) by Mohamed Al-Mughanni; To My Father (2008) by Abdel-Salam Shehadeh; and Bab Al-Shams (The Gate of the Sun, 2004) by Yousry Nasrallah.

The latter is a poignant drama enclosing two parts: The Departure and The Return, which delves into the roots of the Palestinian issue and the challenging reality. It features Khalil (Bassel Al-Khayat) and Nuhaila’s (Reem Turki) wedding that quickly transformed into a battlefield of violence and bullets. The love story captures the atrocities of the Palestinian reality against the backdrop; the historical events show also the human capability of resistance. 

The compelling film Condom Lead, directed by the Palestinian twins Arab and Tarzan Nasser – known for their brilliantly acclaimed film Gaza Mon Amour (2020) – is simply set in a young family home located in the Gaza Strip. The opening scene features a baby crawling out of a room, chasing some colored balloons coming out from the same room before him. The film has no dialogue, just the sound of air strikes throughout the 16-minute duration of the film.

One night, with the same sounds of airplane raids in the background, the married couple tries to have sex but is interrupted by the sound of airstrikes and bombings. This wakes up their crying child. The husband then blows up a condom and lets it move freely around the house. Here, the metaphor is brilliant in marking the failures and the intimacies stolen from them by violence.

The gripping short film Bela Saqf (Roof Rocking) by Sina Salimi brilliantly illustrates the horrific and complex realities of life in Gaza. The film shows a woman preparing a meal in Ramadan to eat with her family, but she receives a phone call from an Israeli soldier informing her that she only has 10 minutes to leave her home before they bomb it. In this powerful first scene, the heroine Lana (Sameera Asir) brilliantly conveys the helplessness to the viewer. She then begins to look for her daughter.

The Palestinian documentary Not Just Your Picture tells the story of siblings Layla and Ramzi, who were both born and raised in the city of Siegen, Germany. Their Palestinian father Ibrahim came to Germany in the 1980s to study architecture, where he married their mother, but he moved back to the Gaza Strip after he divorced their German mother.

The CineGouna Bridge featured a panel discussion in the same context of Palestine, which was held under the name “Camera in Crisis: A Lens on Palestine” in cooperation with the Palestinian Film Foundation; the Palestinian panel encloses director Khalil Al-Muzayen, actor Ahmed Al-Monyrawi, and filmmakers Rashid Masharawi and Farah Nabulsi and was moderated by director Mohammed Al-Mughanni, who started the conversation by asking about the ability of filmmakers to help in changing the current situation because he believes that the Palestinian people need more basic things like protection, homes, food, and water before their need for their stories to be documented. 

Actor Ahmed Al-Monyrawi started his words with a poem by Mahmoud Darwish; he also talked about the Israeli plan since 1948 to doubt the existence and capabilities of the Palestinian people. However, the filmmaker talked about Palestinian filmmakers who fight the Western media’s false narrative about Palestine, praising the Egyptian people’s solidarity with the Palestinians and stating that cinema is an important weapon for Palestinians. Filmmaker Khalil Al-Muzayen commented on whether the Palestinians would tolerate films depicting recent events, criticizing some Palestinian filmmakers who adopt Western agendas to guarantee film funding. 

Filmmaker Rashid Masharawi believed in the continuity of Palestinian cinema, saying that “occupation is not forever, but cinema is forever as it holds the narrative, civilization, and history.” 

Farah Nabulsi, director of The Teacher, said that cinema is a form of resistance that helped end apartheid in South Africa; she also condemned the double standards of human rights organizations. 

Al-Mughanni asked Al-Muzayen about his experience in establishing the Red Carpet Film Festival in Gaza. Al-Muzayen began by criticizing Islamic groups in Gaza like Hamas for destroying cinema halls after 1973. He added that he wanted to hold a film festival in Gaza after the 2014 war but cinema halls were unavailable, so the festival was held in rubble. A 120-metre red carpet was also unavailable, so they used a smaller carpet. The festival was attended by over 10,000 Gazan visitors. He concluded by again criticizing Gaza's Islamic trends regarding women and freedoms, calling for changed positions in light of solidarity with the Gaza people now.

Al-Mughanni responded by referring to the positive annual changes made by Hamas during his last visit to Gaza, adding that he felt no difference in security between Gaza and the West Bank. He asked Nabulsi about filming conditions for her films The Present and The Teacher in the Palestinian interior. She discussed the difficulty in filming The Teacher as it started after Shireen Abu-Akleh's killing and filming covert checkpoints in The Present.

Actor Ahmed Al-Monyrawi spoke about the challenges of his work as an actor from the Gaza Strip, being unable to travel to other Palestinian cities and missing work opportunities with filmmakers. Al-Mughanni asked Masharawi and Nabulsi about how they deal with Israeli characters in their films – do they try to find motives for these characters? Masharawi said that he is not obligated to do this and that he relies on viewers' prior understanding of the Palestinian context.

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