Gaza in the eyes of women - first of its kind film festival in Gaza

The Women’s Affairs Center in Gaza is preparing to launch its first festival for women’s films before the end of 2009 under the title “Gaza in the eyes of women.” Its aim: to shed light on the cinema of women and highlight the incredible creativity existing in ranks of Arab and Palestinian women.
Palestine films
Shirine Deibiss' film "America." © Al-Akhbar

GAZA, July 22, 2009 (MENASSAT) – The Gaza in the Eyes of Women Festival aims to create a cultural phenomenon through cinema. Festival organizers say they are looking to directly communicate with Palestinian and Arab women directors, and it’s no small deal trying to organize something that has no precedent in Gaza.

Itram Washah, coordinator of the video program at the host organization, the Women’s Affair Center, said Palestinian directors have a need to express their causes and ambitions, and spread their message to the Arab world.

“Palestinian woman can be creative even at the darkest times,” she said, adding that many talented women directors need support and exposure – something she says the Women’s Center has been working the past three years to achieve.

Training is a big component in this process.

Arab participation

The festival expects to screen around 50 films, which include local entries, as well as films from Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Sudan and Jordan.

Washah said that the 2-year Israel blockade on the Gaza Strip made communications with the Arab directors difficult – and shipping even more so. But, she says the blockade was unable to control the phone systems and Internet – which de facto were the primary means of “breaking” the blockade's overwhelming effects on everyday life, Washah said.

The Center said it was able to arrange a central collection point in Egypt for the Arab movies. Some of the films collected there included those made by Arabic film heavyweights like director Sama al-Aryan, Jordanian director Tayssir Masharqa, and Moroccan director Omar al-Fatihi, in addition to nine Palestinian films from the West Bank and from the pre-Israel 1948 territories.

A pioneer experience

Palestinian director Saud Mehanna, a consultant in the supervisory committee, assured continuity with participating directors, calling them and making other key arrangements to assure their enthusiasm in the festival.

Although Mehanna expects this year’s festival will exceed their expectations in the way of participation and access to training, he says it is a blueprint that will only get better, especially given it’s the only festival of its kind. 

Some critics have gone public in accusing the festival of launching past the original launch date earlier this year, a charge Mehanna refutes given the appalling social and political climate in Gaza, “Harsh circumstances that affect Palestinians in general and women in particular.”

Indeed, the participating local films focus on Palestinian women’s issues, especially the life of Palestinian women living in Gaza during the Israeli blockade, the December/January war on Gaza and overall themes such as violence, and divorce.

The festival, Mahanna says is a chance for Gaza’s women directors to rise up above the situation and overcome it, despite all the obstacles.

“There is an international and Arab tendency for women to make movies especially in Cairo, Morocco and Spain,” he said.

The festival is due to open in September 2009 at the Rashad al-Shawa cultural center in Gaza City.

The Festival Committee includes Amal Siyyam, the executive manager of the Center; Zeinab Ghanimi, manager of the Center for Research and Legal Consultations; May Naef, a scholar; Saud Mehanna, director; Majida Thabet, director; Khalil al-Zein, director; Hidaya Shamoun, writer and media worker; Itmad Washah, coordinator of the video programs; and Nour al-Halabi, assistant coordinator.

The September Women’s Festival will last for three consecutive days, and will include workshops to discuss the movie making process using films chosen by the committee during the festival.