/ 29 April 2024

‘Festivals must play their role when disasters occur’

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Resistance: Palestinian director Rashid Mashharawi at the Aswan International Women Film Festival. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi wants to “export a different cinematic image of Gaza”, ravaged by war, as he presides over the jury at the eighth Aswan International Women Film Festival, in southern Egypt, which has “resistance cinema” as its theme.

Against the backdrop of the war it was decided to screen six Palestinian short films in the competition, which brings together filmmakers from across the region.

This was despite many voices in the Arab world calling for the suspension of all artistic and cultural activities in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Masharawi is known internationally for being the first Palestinian director to be in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival when his film Haifa was included in 1996.

Born in the Gaza Strip to refugees from the port city of Jaffa, the director now lives in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

He said he “does not consider art and cinema as purely entertainment”.

“If film festivals do not play their role when major disasters occur, as with what is currently happening in Palestine, then why do they exist?” he asked.

In his newest film, for which work is ongoing, Masharawi said he wants to expose what he called “the lie of self-defence”.

“The Occupation blew up the studio of an artist in Gaza with paintings and statues. Where is self-defence when one kills artists and intellectuals, while calling them terrorists?” the 62-year-old asked.

For Masharawi, now more than ever, it is necessary to support cinema and have “a different cinematic image of Gaza” reach the world to “make the truth prevail in the face of the lies of the Israeli occupation”.

At the heart of Masharawi’s work is identity. 

“It is difficult [for Israel] to occupy our memories, our identities, our music, our history and our culture,” he said.

Israel “is wasting a lot of time on a project doomed to failure and which will kill many of us”, he said, referring to the war in Gaza.

Masharawi said the solidarity of the Arab public with the Palestinian people, “and I mean the people and not their leaderships”, might come “from their powerlessness and the restrictions of their [governmental] systems”.

He added, “I used to dream the Arab governments would be like their people but I say it clearly — this has not happened, even after we have come close to 200 days of war.” — AFP