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Dreams of a Nation On Palestinian Cinema

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 24.01.2008:

Edited, with an introduction by Hamid Dabashi

Preface by Edward Said

Verso Books, USA, September 2006, 213 pages, $24.95

Over the last quarter-century, Palestinian cinema has emerged as a major artistic force on the global scene. Deeply rooted in the historic struggles for national self-determination, this cinema is the single most important artistic expression of a much-maligned people. Despite the extraordinary social and artistic significance of Palestinian film, there is no single volume in which its political and aesthetic aspects are carefully examined.

Dreams of a Nation, a collection of essays and interviews in which filmmakers, critics and scholars reflect on its production and impact, is the most comprehensive book on Palestinian cinema in any language.

The book includes essays by Bashir Abu-Manneh,

Hamid Dabashi, Nizar Hassan, Annemarie Jacir, Michel Khleifi, Joseph Massad, Hamid Naficy, Omar Al-Qattan, Kamran Rastegar, Edward Said, and Ella Shohat.

As noted in Edward Said’s preface, Palestinian cinema provides a visual alternative, a visual articulation, a visual incarnation of Palestinian existence in the years since 1948, the year of the destruction of Palestine, and the dispersal and dispossession of the Palestinians. Due to the absence of any Palestinian institutions of culture that survived the catastrophe, the emergence of a Palestinian cinema had to wait until such a rubric emerged. The Palestinian revolution paid attention to cinema since its early years. It undertook the mission of recording and documenting the Palestinian revolution for the future. In its attempt to articulate a national narrative, Palestinian cinema discovers a world that has been frequently hidden, and the making visible, sometimes in very subtle and eloquent ways, as in the cinema of Elia Suleiman, or in folkloric ways in the later films of Michel Khleifi, is very exciting indeed.

Palestinian cinema began to be produced at a relatively prolific rate throughout the 1970s, the highest number being twelve in 1973, slowing down by the end of the decade and reaching a trickle after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The 1990s ushered in a new age of Oslo and PLO capitulation, which brought its own financial rewards. The availability of funding from various sources changed the filmic terrain drastically. One could posit that Palestinian cultural production, including films, in recent years, is constitutive of the simultaneous despair and hope that Palestinians are experiencing. What Palestinian filmmakers have succeeded in doing in the last thirty years is to tell many important Palestinian stories that the world had never heard before. The hope, however, is that Palestinian cinema will not only remain a weapon of resistance but that it will also become a weapon and an act of culture.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the founder of Dreams of a Nation: A Palestinian Film Project, committed to the preservation and dissemination of Palestinian cinema. He also wrote Close Up: Iranian Cinema: Past, Present and Future, which is also published by Verso Books.

This Week in Palestine

January 2008

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