Palestinian cinema almost started with the inception of cinema. Ibrahim Sarhan, the first Palestinian filmmaker, made a 20-minute-long short documentary about the King Saud’s visit to Palestine as far back as 1935. And even before 1948 many Palestinian filmmakers and producers such as the brothers Ibrahim and Badr Lama were collaborating with Egyptian cinema. Nonetheless, most people think Palestinian cinema started with the beginning of the Nakba in 1948, with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the establishment of the Jewish state. Since then, Palestinian cinema started to be a part of the resistance movement against the injustice that has been perpetrated against the Palestinian people. We can easily say that we are celebrating 75 years of resistance cinema in Palestine.
This cinema went through various generations, movements, and periods. When I started making films in the beginning of the 1990s, after the first Intifada and the Oslo Accords, my generation faced a new era and had to make new choices. And for me, as a part of this generation, I too stood in front of the urgent questions: what should I do? Which direction should I take? And what will be my role?
The highest achievement in humanity: culture and art.
First, I had to define what I was resisting. It was clear to me, even after the Oslo Accords, that the main goal of the Zionists is to erase you as a nation and make you accept your inferior position. So, how could I, a new filmmaker, be a part of resisting this project? I knew by then that producing any cultural work under the flag of Palestine is keeping the cause alive. It is telling the enemy that whatever you do, I still exist, and I am still able to produce the highest achievement in humanity: culture and art.
Art is the force that can transform ugliness into beauty, be the source of inspiration for others, and serve as a tool to survive the time and place. But then came the question, how can art expedite the end of the occupation? On the one hand, the function of art in this case is to make those under oppression feel proud of themselves in order to continue the struggle, to be more aware of themselves and their enemy so that they can enhance their resistance. On the other hand, you want to demoralize your enemy, to let him feel that he has not succeeded in erasing you. I have to be honest, achieving both of these with one sword is the most difficult task for an artist. To demoralize your enemy, you need to speak in a visual language that can achieve worldwide recognition. At the same time, your own people suffer daily from the occupier, and they need a different language that resurrects the spirit. I think you can see that struggle clearly in my movies.
In the last few years, I came to the conclusion that the Zionist project is actually dead, but the power of the world keeps it alive in an artificial manner. In short, the four pillars that lift the project are crumbling. Demographically, despite all that is done to thin out the Palestinian population living on the ground, Palestinians are still the majority and there is no sign that this can be changed. Military-wise, in 1967 they were able to occupy five times the land that they controlled. Now, they can’t even enter one inch into Lebanon or Gaza. Western military ground support failed tremendously in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone knows that nobody can count on this anymore. And the last pillar is that the thing that can hold the project together is crumbling too. In the past, nothing could hold the Zionist as a whole, except their vilification of Arabs; nowadays, even this no longer holds them together. The division in the Zionist community is so great that even their common enemy is not enough.
We maintained our humanity, Producing art
As my thoughts are evolving, my cinema continues to evolve. Now, I want to make movies that can help us heal from the sickness that the occupation left in us, and to make art that will stay in history and won’t die by the death of occupation. I hope my films live as a witness in history, as an example for humans of when we lived under the most extreme circumstances, and despite that fact, still maintained our humanity. Producing art.
About Hany Abu-Assad:
Born in Nazareth, Palestinian film director, writer and producer Hany Abu-Assad is one of the most eminent Arab filmmakers of our time. His international breakout film PARADISE NOW stirred up controversy in 2006 when submitted to both the Golden Globes, where it won the award for Best Foreign Film, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a film from 'Palestine'. Under pressure from Israeli officials, who didn’t want the Academy to acknowledge such a state, the Academy began to refer to the film's origin country as the "Palestinian Territories" – a decision that angered the director. More than a decade later, Hany’s film OMAR was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014 but this time around as a film from Palestine. OMAR went to win several major awards, including the Independent Spirit Award, Felix Award, Berlin Blue Angel Award, Amnesty International Film Prize, Golden Calf, and the Un Certain Regard - Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Hany’s latest film, the internationally co-produced HUDA’S SALON, landed its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.