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Cinema of the Palestinian Revolution

In 1982, The Palestine Film Unit archive was destroyed and its contents stolen during the Israeli invasion of Beirut. It is now known that the Israeli military seized it. Access is controlled by the military and denied to Palestinians.

As part of the Creative Interruptions project which explores artistic expressions of disenfranchised communities that challenge power, researchers at Sheffield Hallam University have participated in the work of digitising and restoring Palestinian films from the 1970s and the early 1980s. Cultural genocide has ‘a direct impact on [a] people’s capacity to stay alive’ (Wolfe 2006). The restoration of five films marks an important retrieval of Palestinian revolutionary cinema. We therefore view this recovery as an ‘interruptive’ act.

We hope that this project supports the wider endeavour to restore Palestinian cultural memory in the face of israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian cultural artefacts since 1948. In terms of Palestinian cinema, it has been left to individual artists and filmmakers to retrieve and restore such films from scatted locations across the world. The films we have restored were found in private collections, held by filmmakers families, treasured belongings that have been inaccessible to wider society. Filmmaker Azza El Hassan found two films relating to Hani Jawharieh in his family home. Ismail Shammout’s family had located two of his films amongst his personal materials. Filmmaker Kassem Hawal had kept a copy of Palestinian Identity.

We aim to return these films to Palestinian archives as well as to share them with an international public. We hope by doing so to enable a deeper understanding of Palestinian cinema history and visuality including its revolutionary era. The collection works together to enhance our understanding of the ways in which the filmmakers of the period produced a cinema in which the preservation and development of culture and so-cial identity was at the heart of the movement.

These five films all emphasise the production of culture. Zaharat Al Madain highlights the symbolic role of the city of Jerusalem, Palestine In the Eye pays homage to the filmmaker Hani Jawhareih, Ismail Shammout’s films use music and painting to narrate history and the aims of the liberation movement, and finally Palestinian Identity highlights the intellectual ideas that influenced the PLO’s Arts and Culture Unit and gives witness to the diversity of its cultural productions in the face of settler colonialism.

The collection also highlights the range of ways in which films were produced during this period: in collaboration with public funded broadcasters in the Arab region; independently through the Palestine Film Unit; as well as in collaboration with progressive filmmakers in the Arab world to cement an alternative Arab Cinema in which the cause of Palestine was embedded at its heart.

© Dr Anandi Ramamurthy 2018
Sheffield Hallam University


Zahrat Al-Madain - ‘The Flower of All Cities’ - 1969 (18+)

Director: Ali Siam (7mins)
Cinematography: Hani Jawharieh
Restoration Director: Azza El Hassan

Produced as part of a cinematic magazine, The Flower of all Cities provides a rare example of the work of Palestinian photographer and cinematographer, Hani Jawharieh (1939 – 1976). Using the sound track, ‘The Flower of all Cities’, a famous song by Fairouz, the film presents a harmonious picture of Palestinian civil life that is disturbed by the israeli army’s occupation of the city following the 1967 war with israel. During this period, Jawharieh worked with the Jordanian Ministry of Culture as well as the Palestine Film Unit. It is significant that when Jawharieh left Jordan in 1975 he chose to take this film with him indicating his satisfaction with the piece.


Palestine in The Eye - 1976 (18+)

Director: PLO Film Unit/Mustafa Abu Ali (28mins)
Restoration Director: Azza El Hassan

Palestine in the Eye documents the loss of Hani Jawharieh for the PLO Media Unit. Through the use of multiple forms of speech and silence the film creates ‘an open text that can be read as a straightforward tribute to a militant friend or as a more complex representation of revolutionary belonging’ (Yaqub 2018). Although the film has later been attributed to Mustafa Abu Ali, the film unit’s method of work was to describe everyone as a collective of ‘workers’ and we see this in the film titles, which lists the names of all who participated as a non-hierarchical collective. Through its reflection on Jawharieh we are offered an understanding of the workings of the Palestine Film Unit and its international connections.


Glow of Memories - 1972 (18+)

Director: Ismail Shammout (12 mins)
Restoration Director: Bashar Shammout

Centering around an old Palestinian man who is the subject of Shammout’s painting Memories and Fire, the film acts to unravel his memories using archival photographs and Shammout’s own paintings to tell the story of Palestinian dispossession and resistance to it. By simply using a montage of visuals and sounds and avoiding narration, Shammout adopts a style that enables the film to communicate across language boundaries, creating a film that offered a nonverbal, affective narrative of the Palestinian cause. The film was screened at a variety of festivals in the former Soviet Union and at the International Leipzig Documentary and Short Film Week for Cinema and Television in 1973.


Palestinian Identity - 1983 (18+)

Director: Kassem Hawal (40 mins)
Restoration Director: Kassem Hawal

Kassem Hawal fled from his native Iraq after political persecution in 1970. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s he worked with the PLO Film Unit. His vision was the liberation of the region from imperialist and class exploitation. Palestinian Identity is a rare example of a PLO film made after their departure from Beirut. It documents the burnt and destroyed cultural and educational centres from which the israeli military stole films, photographs, historical and contemporary manuscripts. The film includes interviews with key members of the Palestinian cultural scene such as Mahmoud Darwish and Ismail Shammout and those in charge of cultural and educational centres to present a sophisticated intellectual understanding of israel’s attempt to destroy Palestinian identity and the resistance to it. It has not been screened since its premier at Leipzig in 1983.


The Urgent Call of Palestine - 1973 (18+)

Director: Ismail Shammout (5 mins)
Restoration Director: Bashar Shammout

Ismail Shammout, director of the Cultural Arts Section of the PLO, while primarily known for his paintings also worked with the organisation’s Film Unit in the 1970s, to produce 5 short films. The Urgent Call presents Zainab Shaath, an Egyptian-Palestinian musician singing the song, ‘The Urgent Call’, which the singer composed from a poem written by an Indian friend, Lalitha Punjabi. The song, influenced by the musical style of Joan Baez, became famous across the Arab world. The film entwines us emotionally before sharply cutting to the words of Kamal Nasser whose agitated style of speech contrasts with the song. This emphasises the sharp film cut that delivers the most urgent call. His words remain strikingly relevant today.