Palestinian literature and film at Shubbak Festival, London, 11-26 July 2015


‘Wave’, Djerbahood, Tunisia, by French Tunisian ‘calligraffiti’ artist eL Seed.

Shubbak Festival is London’s largest festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture, and takes place this year from 11-26 July. I’ve selected a few events which anyone interested in Palestinian history and culture might like to check out. Let me know if there are others I’ve missed! The festival includes many wonderful-sounding screenings, performances and discussions, so do have a read of the whole site.

One highlight of the festival looks to be Disappearing Cities of the Arab World, on 12 July. The full programme of speakers for this day-long event hasn’t been announced yet, but from the description it looks like there will be a strong Israel/Palestine theme:

In the post-colonial age, Arab urban life has often borne witness to destruction through civil wars, foreign invasion and religious conflict. Old customs and architectures have been erased; in their place, a new landscape of globalization has emerged.

Disappearing Cities of the Arab World explores issues of architecture, post-colonialism, globalisation and psycho-geography. It brings together writers, artists, historians, architects and urbanists to explore the complex space that is the contemporary Arab city. Speakers include Ziauddin Sardar on Mecca, Eyal Weizman on the architecture of occupation, Shadia Touqan on the restoration of Jerusalem’s ancient buildings, as well as writers and artists offering dispatches from cities across the Arab region.

Divided into different sessions, the day explores the theme through a focus on architecture and urban planning, literary reflections on cities with guest authors, and visual representations in still and moving images by artists and activists. Sharon Rotbard, architect and author of White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa will give the keynote talk, focusing on modernist architecture and colonisation in Israel.

The festival also includes a series of film screenings curated by celebrated Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, to mark his 65th birthday. These include all three parts of Khleifi’s own Route 181, co-directed with Eyal Sivan, and a discussion with both directors following the screening of the first part on 21 July. Parts two and three will be screened the following night on 22nd July.

Other examples of Khleifi’s work showing during the festival will be Canticle of the Stones (1990) on 13 July, Fertile Memory (1980), the first full-length film to be shot in Palestine, on 16 July, Wedding in Galilee (1987) on 19 July. and Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land (1990) on 21 July.

On 12 July there will be a three-part screening, as part of Khleifi’s selections, under the heading ‘Visions of Palestine’. I’ve not come across the films before, but they sound fascinating:

Location Hunting in Palestine Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1965 | 55 mins Location Hunting in Palestine is a record of Pasolini’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 to scout for locations for the Oscar nominated classic The Gospel According to St Matthew (1965) and his explanation of why he decided not to film there.

Description of a Struggle Chris Marker | France | 1960 | 60 mins Using archival material and location footage, the French auteur explores the challenge for Israeli citizens to come to terms with their new identity and the treatment of its Arab minorities. Winner of the 1961 Golden Bear for Best Feature-Length Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction Michel Khleifi | Palestine/Belgium | 1984 | 30 mins Ma’loul is a Palestinian village in Galilee. In 1948, it was destroyed by the Israeli armed forces and its inhabitants expelled. The former inhabitants are only allowed to visit once a year, on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, and have developed a new tradition: they have a picnic on the very site of the destroyed village.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Khleifi, Tariq Ali, Peter Kosmisky (director of Channel 4 series The Promise) and Ilan Pappe.

The festival ends on 26 July with an event featuring Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, author of many acclaimed works including the Palestinian epic Gate of the Sun, in conversation with Marina Warner.

Many of the panel discussions also sound interesting, such as The Rise of Arabic Literature in English? (note that crucial question mark!) on 25 July, with speakers including British Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh, and Marcia Lynx Qualey, owner of the popular blog Arabic Literature (in English). Palestine’s most well-known living poet Mourid Barghouti participates in the discussion at Writing Change: Words in Times of Conflict and Crisis, also on 25 July, while later that day Gazan novelist Atef Abu Saif reads from his latest works, including The Drone Eats With Me, his diary of last summer under siege, as part of an event called Hot Off the Press.

I’m personally curious about the panel discussions on emerging literary forms in the Arab world. Drawing Your Attention, on 26 July, examines the rise of graphic novels, and is well-timed, following the publication of the first Palestinian novel, Baddawi by Leila Abdulrazak, this year. Science Fiction in the Arab World, on 25 July, sounds like it should be a fascinating discussion about the possibilities of this form as a means for imagining alternative futures for the Arab world, whether those be hopeful or dystopian.

Hannah Boast

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