London Palestine Film Festival 2023 round-up: Ones to watch

London Palestine Film Festival 2023 round-up: Ones to watch
4 min read
27 November, 2023

One week into the 2023 London Palestine Film Festival, support and solidarity have been unmatched. With the festival for two more days, with added screenings, The New Arab has rounded up some of our favourite films so far.

If cinema is a window to the world then the London Palestine Film Festival has opened it wide open to the powerful, vital and moving stories of people who have been kept in the margins for far too long.

Taking place over ten days in November, this year's line-up has welcomed an array of films, short form and feature, documentary and narrative fiction, that grapple with the experiences of the Palestinian community, in and outside the region.

Live Story

As Israel's brutal occupation and its war against Hamas and the civilian population continue to devastate, these are some of the cinematic offerings providing an eye-opening look at the resilience, hope and humanity that will never be extinguished.

The Dream, Mohamad Malas

The subconscious has long been a way for people to process the hardship of living. For the Palestinian interviewees in Syrian filmmaker Mohamad Malas' 1987 film, recorded between 1980–81, the horrifying experiences that led to them being displaced into the Lebanese camps of Sabra, Shatila, Bourj el-Barajneh, Ain al-Hilweh and Rashidieh plagues them on a nightly basis.

Children, women, men, the elderly and resistance fighters share their nocturnal memories, from nightmares about massacres and exploding body parts to futile attempts to write democratic freedom into existence, the psychological turmoil for many displaced individuals will always remain.

The 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres forced Malas to stop working on the project but he returned to it in 1986 to deliver a potent, beautifully shot film capturing the devastated psyche of an oppressed people.

Bir'em, Camille Clavel

In this sentimental reflection of generational trauma, Clavel takes an almost cinéma vérité approach as we follow Palestinian teen Nagham and her attempts to reconnect with her family's eponymous village. Bir'em was destroyed during the 1948 Nakba and now she, her parents and grandfather reside in Northern Israel.

Conversations with her grandfather inspired her to spend the summer visiting the wreckage of his former home and creating new memories. It's an intimate film with a naturalistic script grounded in the simplicity of the performances. Yet when Nagham and her friends discuss the insecurity of their Palestinian identity its message is especially potent.

R21 aka Restoring Solidarity

Film restoration is never more important than protecting the reels from and on Palestine. Securing these memories, moments and stories for future generations plays a vital role in keeping their history alive as well as safeguarding the truth of brutal Occupation. Mohanad Yaqubi's R21 aka Restoring Solidarity is an integral part of that archival movement.

The film established the solidarity between Japan and Palestine in the resistance of colonising forces after World War 2, utilising a collection of 20 16mm films filmed from the '60s to the '80s. From T Maki’s Palestine and Japan to Victor Haddad's Temptation to Return, Yaqubi paints a picture of resistance in the face of oppression framed by a once-lost letter written by a Japanese activist (Reel No. 21) cementing the Japanese and Palestinian struggle together.

Twelve Beds

Reine Mitri zooms in on the experience of orphaned Palestinian children sent to a mixed orphanage in Souk el Gharb, a town in Mount Lebanon. These kids' parents were martyrs during the Palestinian Revolution and decades later, Mitri meets and interviews some of the now-adult orphans about their memories of a fraught time in their childhood.

These include Fayez Bibi, Bashar El Youssef, Hiyam Al Far, Arifa Abbas Melhem Houriye Al Far Ghassan Naamani and Samiha Necmi, who now live across several countries but have strong ties to their homeland as well as mixed feelings about their time at the children's home. Mitri makes ample use of archival footage and videos as well as the music of Abdallah Haddad who founded a folk troupe in the early seventies which some of these orphans joined, and performed in, around the world to foster global solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Live Story

Yet it's when the filmmaker takes them back to the now derelict and war-ravaged orphanage – via video link or in person – that the depth of their personal histories presents itself in visually powerful and narratively emotive ways. Twelve Beds is an insightful and poignant reflection on the psychological scars of displacement and identity that blight Palestinians at far too young an age.

Hanna Flint is a film and TV critic, writer and author of Strong Female Character with bylines at Empire, Time Out, Elle, Town & Country, the Guardian, BBC Culture and IGN

Follow her here: @HannaFlint