ASWAN: Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi wants to “export a different cinematic image of Gaza”, now ravaged by Israeli aggression, as he presides over the jury at the eighth Aswan International Women Film Festival themed on “resistance cinema”.

Against the backdrop of the aggression in the Gaza Strip, the festival in southern Egypt 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 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.

“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.

Among the six Palestinian films included at Aswan is the 14-minute documentary film “Threads of Silk” by director Walaa Saadah, who was killed last month in the war. The film looks at the meanings of the embroidery on the Palestinian “thawb” robe.

The 16-minute documentary film “A Cut Off Future” from director Alia Ardoghli discusses the daily experiences of 27 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 in the shadow of the Israeli occupation.

‘Films from Distance Zero’

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

“The occupation (Israel) 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 said.Two months after the beginning of the crisis, Masharawi began a new project: a support fund for cinema in the besieged coastal strip.

The initiative “Films from Distance Zero” supports Gazan filmmakers living “under the bombing or becoming refugees” to produce their films.

Female filmmakers are active in the project, about whom Masharawi said, “always in the most difficult moments, we find the Palestinian woman on the front line.” Around 2.4 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a blockade since Hamas came to power in 2007.

Theatres in Gaza closed at the end of the 1980s during the Palestinian uprising against Israel known as the First Intifada, but reopened after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.

Last year an open-air film festival took place, “taking into account the customs and traditions of the territory,” a Hamas official said at the time. 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”.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2024

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