Palestinian reality is debated across the globe. However, often by international academics, journalists and politicians. The Danish House in Palestine has invited a number of Palestinians representing different outlooks and areas of expertise to share their perspectives.
Hanna Atallah, born 1977, is a filmmaker and producer. He is the founder and artistic director of FilmLab: Palestine, a non-profit company promoting film culture in Palestine. FilmLab organizes the annual film event Days of Cinema in Palestine. The third edition takes place from October 15 to 21, 2016.
What got you interested in filmmaking?
“In 1994, I got the chance to go to France as part of a youth exchange. There I had a black-and-white photography workshop and they also screened the film Wedding in Galilee (1987), which is about a Palestinian wedding and the situation with Palestinians and Israelis. After I saw this film I thought, ‘Oh, there is something I can tell,’ and I became more aware about film and cinema.
In 1997, I left for Egypt and there I began reading more about films and cinema. I lived there for eight years, studying film as director and working in the Egyptian film and TV industry. After that, I moved to France for a little while and then Berlin. In 2006, I came back to Palestine where I taught film and made different projects.”
When you founded FilmLab in 2014, what did you have in mind?
“A place where young filmmakers could meet and discuss film and have a little bit of facilities. When I came back to Palestine, I didn’t find a place like this. If you had talent and a story to tell, you had no place to go to. Therefore I thought, ‘Maybe it’s nice to make for others what I missed.’
Now the basics are there. We have space, we can make workshops and we have good connections and a little bit of equipment that people can use for free. But we’re in a thirsty place. A lot of young people come here to ask for a camera or microphone. Instead of having one camera, we need 10. I hope that FilmLab can give more access and facilities and make life easier for filmmakers.”
Another outcome of FilmLab is Days of Cinema. How did that come about?
“When we launched FilmLab, I told my friends, ‘Why not make one week of screening films?’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll send you our films.’ So we made it, and it was really good. People wanted to see these films. Afterwards, people began asking when the second edition would be. I said, ‘What?’ They said, ‘Your festival? Aren’t you making a festival?’
For me, festival is a big word. For a festival, you need access to a lot of things, including cinema theatres, which we don’t have. Instead, we screen in cultural centers. Also, because of the political situation, we have to screen in different cities. If we made it only in Jerusalem or Ramallah, many people wouldn’t be able to come.”
How is filmmaking in Palestine different from elsewhere?
“First of all, you can’t compare it. One of the biggest problems is that we don’t have a local fund. If you have an idea for a film, you write a script, and then you go to Europe to get funding. A Palestinian filmmaker needs five or six years to produce one film because it takes a lot of time to get funding. It also takes a lot of energy.
Another problem is that we don’t have infrastructure to produce, such as studios or cameras. When you make a Palestinian movie, you rent cameras from Tel Aviv or bring them from Europe. This is the reality. Because of this a film that in France or Germany or Egypt will cost half a million dollars, will here cost more than a million.
Also, we don’t have a film industry. We don’t have professional people who can work with you, the crew. So you need to bring these people from outside, and this also costs more. Post-production is also outside. You use Palestine only as location.”
How many of the feature films made in Palestine deal with the political situation?
“You can’t not touch this situation. If you make a love story in Ramallah, and you make it in a realistic way, you will feel the political situation. Why does Ramallah look like this? Why does is have all these BMW cars? Why is it more expensive than Berlin? Why do you have two or three thousand foreigners here? Is the air in Ramallah special compared to Copenhagen? No, it’s back to politics and the situation.
How you will feel the political situation depends on the narrative and whether you make a film full of stereotypes — ‘we are victims’ — or touch the situation in a more cinematic way like Muayad Alayan in his film Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (about a Palestinian car thief who steals the wrong car and discovers a kidnapped Israeli soldier in the trunk, Ed.). Here at Filmlab, we try to push storytelling and cinematic language. We have a new generation of filmmakers in Palestine who try to push this.”
Days of Cinema
FilmLab: Palestine organizes the annual film event Days of Cinema. The third edition takes place from October 15 to 21, 2016, with screenings in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Gaza. Some of the screenings in Ramallah are hosted by the Danish House. The program will be available at flp.ps and dhip.ps. Days of Cinema is also a platform for Palestinian filmmakers to meet with filmmakers and producers from outside Palestine.