October 1, 2009

Palestinian Perspectives V at Cinémathèque québécoise

Activists and Combattants
Arab Women in Resistance
(Palestinian Perspectives, 5th edition)
Oct 21-30, 2009 : Cinémathèque québécoise

What are the historical conditions that compel women to join social and political movements, to engage in liberation struggles, to join the ranks of resistance -- sometimes as leaders -- shaking up the very representations that reinforce essentialist and reductionist notions of woman’s place in society?

Arab Women in Resistance is a programme of documentaries rooted in recent Middle Eastern and North African history. Through their stories and conversations, women from Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, and Lebanon tell of their political commitment and make us share their lived traumas as they speak of the love they have for their country, for freedom, and for human dignity.

In these films, women living in the midst of war and revolution have joined with men to combat feudalism, subjugation, and colonialism. They have experienced invasions and bombardments, faced military occupation forces, been dispossessed of their land, homes, and property, and experienced exile. They have seen their fathers, brothers, husbands, and children imprisoned, disappeared, assassinated, or killed in combat.

Just as The Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1966) revealed the crucial role played by women in the fight for national liberation, these films retrace the histories of women involved in social, political, and even armed struggle. These women have been in prison and exposed to death and torture. Some have acted in ways that might seem disturbing to us, but these are in accord with the logic of the colonial wars in which they’ve been engaged: their violence is a response to the violence of colonialism itself.

Film can elucidate life in different ways, allowing us to slip into other people’s skin, inciting us to adopt another perspective and to question our society’s hierarchy of moral values. Which is more monstrous: structural injustice or people who break laws to put an end to that injustice?


Wednesday October 21

6:30pm Claude-Jutra
Quatre femmes d'Égypte
Dir. : Tahani Rached [Qué., 1997, 90 min, Arabic with French subtitles]
Amina, Safynaz, Shahenda et Wedad are old friends. Despite their religious, cultural, and political differences, they met fighting the same battle for social justice. They offer an uncompromising outlook on their activist past, which covers almost 40 years of Egyptian history. “This film does not address the condition of women in Egypt, but rather shows us Egypt as a whole through the lens of their experiences; it illustrates the women’s capacity to maintain their connections and to perpetuate dialogue and tolerance in spite of their totally divergent trajectories.” (T. Rached)

Thursday October 22

8:30pm Claude-Jutra
Khiam 2000-2007
Dir. : Khalil Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas [Lebanon, 2008, 103 min, Arabic with French subtitles]
“In 1999, when South Lebanon was occupied by the Israeli army, we never saw visuals of the detention camp of Khiam. In this film, six prisoners who had just been released discuss their experiences in detention and the relationship they developed through artwork, raising questions about modes of representation. In May 2000, Khiam was dismantled and turned into a museum. During the July 2006 war, the camp was totally destroyed. Today, there is some talk of rebuilding it exactly as it was. In 2007, the same six prisoners filmed 8 years earlier were visited again, and they talk of the liberation and subsequent destruction of the camp, evoking memory, history, reconstitution, imagination, and the power of images.” (K. Joreige, J. Hadjithomas, 2009)

Wednesday October 28

7:00pm Fernand-Seguin
Jamila's Mirror
Dir. : Arab Lotfi [Eg.-U.-K., 1993, 26 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
Following the example of Jamila Bouhired of the Algerian Front de libération nationale (FLN), many Palestinian women became involved in the armed struggle which was precipitated by the 1967 occupation of Palestine. They participated in high-jackings of jet planes and bombings, and in the organization of other PLO operations. Through the testimony of four of these women, the Lebanese-Egyptian filmmaker Arab Lotfi explores their actions in the context of the 1970s Middle East.


Les Porteuses de feu
Dir. : Faouzia Fekiri [Fr., 2007, 52 min, Arabic with French subtitles]
Algiers, 1957. Thirty or so young women rally around the FLN. Spies, combattants, and sympathizers, they fully participate in the Algerian war of independence. Fifty years later, the Algerian journalist Faouzia Fekiri meets eight of these women. A very personal look at a sensitive slice of Algerian history.

Thursday October 29

7:00pm Fernand-Seguin
Tell Your Tale Little Bird
Dir. : Arab Lotfi [Eg., 2003, 90 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
Interviews with seven women engaged in the armed struggle in Palestine in the 1960s and 1970s. Laila Khaled, Perez Halasa, and Ameena Dahbour were involved in the high-jackings of jet planes. Rasheeda Obeida, Aisha Odeh, et Rasmeya Odeh were accused of planting a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket. From carrying out the act, to undergoing imprisonment and torture, their stories raise questions about the limits of engagement and of justice.

9:00pm Fernand-Seguin
First Picture
Dir. : Akram Al Ashqar [Pal., 2006, 27 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
Nour was born in an Israeli prison in the Tulkarm refugee camp, where his mother, Manal Ghanem, is held captive. Nour is separated from his mother, who remains in prison, when he is 2 ½ years old, and the film follows him as he goes out into the world for the first time. He finds a new reality offers itself, one where doors can open and the inhabitants are not only women. Nonetheless, he misses his mother’s prison cell, which is the only world he has ever known.


Take Me Home
Dir. : Mais Darwazah [U.-K., 2008, 54 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
In this first-person documentary, the filmmaker Mais Darwazah, a Jordanian Palestinian woman, takes a trip to visit her grandmother and great aunt who are living in Syria. During this trip, questions of belonging and identity and of intergenerational continuity in the context of the Palestinian Diaspora are raised.

Friday October 30

7:00pm Fernand-Seguin
Women’s Testimonies of the Nakba
Dir. : Raneen Geries [Pal.-Is., 2006, 10 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
This short documentary presents five Palestinian women talking about the events of 1948. Stories of their past life in rural areas during and after the creation of the Israeli state, contribute to a better understanding of the role of Palestinian women in that time period.


A Night at Home
Dir. : Rehab Nazzal [Can., 2006, 4 min, English]
The filmmaker, her mother, and her son listen to the nighttime sound of gunfire around their home.


Women in Struggle
Dir. : Buthina Canaan Khoury [Pal., 2004, 56 min, Arabic with English subtitles]
Four Palestinian women who were former prisoners speak of their experiences in Women in Struggle. Each one was involved in the struggle for recognition of the Palestinian nation-state in the 1970s, but their crimes differed: one was arrested in a pacifist demonstration, while others participated in an assassination attempt. Attentive to their testimony, the filmmaker Buthina Canaan Khoury concentrates on the experience of prison and torture, and the possibility of life afterwards, in the context of contemporary Palestine.

The ten documentaries in this programme throw light on the lived realities of Arab women, realities that contrast with the daily depictions in the mass media, which often gives only a monolithic and oversimplified view of them.

These women open up to us, and their powerful voices are filled with hope. As we listen to the women describe what they have lived through, their words – sometimes serious, sometimes tender, sensual, or humorous -- have a violent authenticity. The women break down our preconceived notions, the clichés and the prejudices we still hold. They disrupt the images by which Arab women have been characterized in Western discursive space. In doing so, they invite us to see them in a different light, to question the reductionist and degrading social representations so often projected onto them, their people, and their societies. We are asked to question the relationship between violence and power that trickles down from colonial occupation and which leads women to go underground, to engage in the struggle against occupation, and to define various strategies of resistance. In the end, these women fight to defend their identities and to recover their human dignity.