What's it like to live in the West Bank? A series of short films produced by young Palestinians gives a rare glimpse into everyday life in Ramallah. The British Council's Suha Khuffash gives an overview.
Palestinian filmmakers are making a name for themselves
In recent years, the Palestinian film industry has become very active. A number of Palestinian films have been nominated or shortlisted for prestigious international cinema awards, including Omar, Paradise Now, Salt of this Sea, and Divine Intervention.
New stars in the making
Last year, 12 young Palestinian filmmakers took part in an intensive eight-day film-making workshop run by the Scottish Documentary Institute and the Palestinian Young Filmmakers Society, producing four short films about my home city of Ramallah. Each of the films reflected the stories and dreams of ordinary people in the streets. Amid check-points and daily news about war, I was pleased to see the young filmmakers meeting in groups every morning to discuss new ideas and stories about love, hope, dreams, the future, food, relationships, art and culture.
The filmmakers worked in groups of three people. They spent most of their time out in the streets of Ramallah, learning how to shoot documentary films. The challenge was to make films that gave an original insight into the city's identity, by giving a voice to ordinary people in the streets dealing with life's daily demands. The teams spent long hours interviewing taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and passers-by, trying to capture interesting stories that could be told in two to three minutes.
Shooting short documentaries is challenging
Making the films wasn't easy. Some of the filmmakers were travelling to the workshop from different cities, so they had to wait at check-points. Another big challenge, according to one of the filmmakers, was condensing all the material to produce very short films.
Others faced problems trying to get consent from the people they wanted to film, and their families, to shoot their personal stories. They succeeded in convincing their movies' lead subjects to share their stories by showing how committed they were, and how much they believed in the work. Many of the filmmakers said they were proud to present films that showed a positive, hopeful side to daily life in Ramallah.
The four films, Checkpoint Boy, The Street Artist, How Delicious and I-Bad, have since been screened in a number of film festivals in different countries including Indonesia, Canada, UK, Poland, and the US. Click on the titles to watch the related films on Vimeo.
Check-Point Boy is the story of a young Palestinian boy, who spends most of his childhood selling bric-a-brac at a military check-point between Ramallah and Jerusalem, in order to supplement his family’s income. Despite his difficulties, he dreams of a better future.
The Street Artist is about an artist who turned one of Ramallah’s most popular old streets – 'Rukab' street, a famous street named after a delicious local ice cream shop – into his studio, or 'mobile exhibition', where everyone can see his work. He gets busy drawing faces of passers-by and displays drawings of famous Palestinian and Arab politicians. 'I feel the beauty of the soul of people passing by,' he says, and his portraits capture the diversity of his city.
In How Delicious, we meet a lovely and lively old Palestinian-Armenian couple who own a pastry shop in downtown Ramallah. Wearing her handmade Palestinian dress, the old lady talks proudly about the family business, the tasty and unique pastries they make, and her relationship with her husband, who speaks about their family business without shying away from telling us who the real boss is.
In I-Bad, a group of young women, all self-described 'geeks' from different Palestinian cities, share a flat in Ramallah. Breaking gender stereotypes, they decide to swap any immediate marriage prospects for laptops and social media. The film takes us into their shared home life and careers, showing their independence without poking fun at tradition. 'Being successful at work doesn't mean I know how to make coffee', jokes one of the girls, as she turns on the gas hob.
Following the success of the 'Ramallah Stories' film project, we launched the 'Palestinian Cities Stories' project for young filmmakers in Bethlehem and Jenin in August 2014 and will expand it to other Palestinian cities over the next three years.
The programme is a partnership between the British Council and the Young Palestinian Filmmakers Society, in consultation with the Scottish Documentary Institute.