'Eclectic' mix marks this year's Palestine Film Festival in London

UK premiere of a feature set in the Golan Heights opens events with a remastered film from the 1980s starring Tilda Swinton to close

The Palestine Film Festival returns to the UK capital this week with a packed programme of nearly two dozen films, talks and exclusive live events.

Starting on Friday, the festival runs until December 3 with screenings taking place at various London cinemas.

Artists and filmmakers attending include multi-award-winning Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, Israeli documentarian Eyal Sivan and Jarman Award-nominated artist-filmmaker, Larissa Sansour, who will be conducting a masterclass exploring her use of science fiction tropes in an art context.

Festival organisers told The National that highlights of their "eclectic" listings include Ameer Fakher Eldin's accomplished debut feature film The Stranger (Al Garib), Sophia AlMaria’s fiercely anticolonial Beast Type Song and Samaher AlQadi’s powerfully feminist As I Want.

The festival opens at the Barbican Centre with the UK premiere of The Stranger, starring two of Palestine's most renowned actors, Ashraf Barhoum and Mohamed Bakri.

Exclusive special events include Soundtrack to the Palestinian Revolution, a show-and-tell presentation especially created for the LPFF that explores the innovative sound design and role of music in revolutionary-era cinema.

Other films making their UK premiere at the festival include Fadia’s Tree by Sarah Beddington. Meanwhile, Friendship’s Death, a film from 1987 starring Tilda Swinton about an alien who lands in Jordan in 1970 after the events of Black September, has been remastered and will be screened and followed by a talk with the film’s producer and actor.

What’s On

UK and European Premieres

The Stranger (Al Garib) at Barbican Centre

November 19

Directed by Ameer Fakher Eldin, the feature-length film is set in small village in the Golan Heights, where an unlicensed doctor is going through an existential crisis caused by the pressure of living under occupation. His life takes an unexpected turn when he encounters a man wounded near the checkpoint. Overturning all community expectations in times of war and national crisis, he ventures forth to meet his newfound destiny.

Fadia’s Tree (European Premiere) at Curzon Soho

November 27

A debut feature film by artist Sarah Beddington, Fadia’s Tree is a heartfelt rumination on the nature of belonging. Fadia, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, wants to find the ancient mulberry tree next to her grandfather’s house in Palestine. A mere two-hour drive from Beirut, Fadia is barred from crossing that border so the film’s director embarks on the quest to find the tree for her. Along the way she observes the homing instincts of millions of migrating birds, nature inadvertently revealing instinctive elements of the Palestinian yearning to return home. Through a birds’ eye perspective, we reflect on freedom of movement, exile and return.

As I Want (UK Premiere) at Barbican Centre

December 1

A feature debut that was shown at Berlinale's Encounters 2021, As I Want marks Samaher Alqadi out as a bold and necessary voice in documentary. Her film captures the spectacular strength of a women's rebellion clashing with structurally immersed patriarchy in Egypt. When Samaher becomes pregnant during filming, a personal journey begins, where she re-examines her own childhood in Palestine. Her imaginary conversation with her dead mother takes the form of words left unsaid, sharing her deepest secrets in an intimate inner voice. As I Want is as personally deep, as it is publicly explosive, thrusting urgent women's voices to the fore.


Soundtrack to the Palestinian Revolution at ICA

November 21

An exclusive presentation by sound archivist and researcher Bashar Shammout, the session promises a dynamic show-and-tell presentation of films and recording samples that exemplify the keen political and creative explosion of sound design in that era. Shammout will be hosted by sound researcher Hazem Jamjoum, and together they will discuss the roles of folk music, sound design and innovation, as well as the manufacturing of LPs in the PLO's cinema output.

Tale of the Three Jewels at Barbican Centre

November 24

The first feature filmed in the Gaza Strip in 1995, this tale of innocence and love tells the story of 12-year-old Yusef, who meets a beautiful gipsy girl and declares his intention of making her his bride. She tells him that he must first find the three jewels missing from a necklace. Yusef must draw a plan to cross the sea to fulfil Aida's request and win her love. Renowned director Michel Khleifi effectively uses the grim backdrop as contrast for a whimsical story of romantic longing and the power of imagination.

Masterclass: Larissa Sansour at SOAS

November 26

This talk by Palestinian filmmaker and artist Larissa Sansour will deal with the use of sci-fi tropes in an art context and the resultant shift in meaning. Sansour will show excerpts of films as well as images of her work covering more than a decade. Discussing the ideas behind framing political discourse in speculative fiction, she will explore the inadvertent retro temporality this proximity generates.

Friendship’s Death (Newly Restored) at Barbican Centre

December 3

September 1970: an extraterrestrial on a peace mission to Earth lands in Jordan. Played by actress Tilda Swinton, the alien is helped by a jaded war correspondent covering the Palestinian revolution as the events of Black September erupt around him. Almost entirely structured around dialogue, the script unfolds as a series of questions about what it means to be human, and what it means to have one's humanity withheld. Directed by Peter Wollen in 1987, this bizarre and profound film has been impeccably restored by the BFI National Archive and was reintroduced at Cannes Classics 2021.

Multibill Shorts at Curzon Soho

November 28

A selection of short films by Palestinian directors that take viewers on a journey through the psyche of a society under occupation. Films include Bafta-winning, Oscar-nominated short film The Present, recordings of the daily life of besieged inhabitants of the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus during the Syrian war in Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege, a modern political essay-form documentary on the political history of a citrus fruit originating in Palestine in Jaffa: The Orange’s Clockwork and others.


The Last Days of April at ICA

November 20

Directed by Laurence Buelens and Jean Forest, this short documentary based on testimonials of Batir’s village elders mixes video, animated stills and an ambient soundscape. Using these elements, it pays tribute to the ingenious resistance of its villagers who used candles, sticks and other forms of trickery to protect their homes from the Israeli Army in 1949.

Ours is a Country of Words at ICA

November 20

A documentary about an undetermined moment in the future when the Palestinian right of return becomes a reality, directed by Mathijs Poppe. Balancing fiction and documentary, families in the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon perform their fictional return.

The Sun and the Looking Glass: for one easily forgets but the tree remembers at ICA

November 21

An artistic essay-film directed by Milena Desse paints a portrait of a place on a hill above the West Bank village of Ein Qiniya, where objects are uncovered after home renovation works. The film is part performance, part historical documentary told through disappearances and revelations.

Beast Type Song at ICA

November 21

Cast against the science fiction backdrop of a solar battle, as evoked by Etel Adnan in her 1989 war poem, The Arab Apocalypse, director Sophia AlMaria explores the revision of history. When words cannot express trauma, a new language of drawings, movement and music gives voice to the speechless. The protagonists reflect on the narrative and languages they have inherited as children of various colonial legacies. The work features performances by Yumna Marwan, Elizabeth Peace and boychild, as well as AlMaria herself.

The Silent Protest at ICA

November 23

In 1929, Palestinian women launched a movement objecting the British High Commissioner’s bias against Arabs in the Buraq uprising. Their story is told by researcher and director Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, whose works focuses on the construction of forgotten narratives of pre and post-1948. Using found footage and archival material, Nasser-Eldin breathes new life into unseen images and redraws the urban trajectories of a 90-year-old story of defiance.

Naila and the Uprising at ICA

November 23

When a nationwide uprising breaks out in 1987, a woman in Gaza must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three, joining a clandestine network of women in a movement that forces the world to recognise the Palestinian right to self-determination. But will the women be able to carry forward the vision of equality that their activism set in motion?

For up-to-date information, visit here.

Updated: November 19th 2021, 3:33 PM