Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory

Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi,
Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory.
Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.
ISBN: 9 780 74863408 8
UK£16.99 (pb)
(Review copy supplied by Edinburgh University Press)

Holy Land Trust; Taayush; International Solidarity Movement; Neve shalom/Wahat al-salam (Oasis of Peace) village; and Alternative Information Center are all non-profit peace organizations, grassroots movements, situated in either Israel or Palestine. Founded by people from both sides, they stand as true examples of Arab-Jewish partnership, striving to achieve and support efforts for peaceful living practices, yield acknowledgement and recognition on both sides for a dual existence. However, most of these groups are left unrecognized by the international media due to the higher popularity of supposedly “more realistic” and dreary scenarios. Cinema, with its irresistible and transgressive nature, claims its own territory with stories from within the wire fenced refugee camps, stories that come from a land where distances are measured in terms of checkpoints. It reflects, displays, and reconsiders the Palestinian people’s relation to the past, the absence of the present time and an ambiguous future.

Before anything else, the crucial importance of Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory is that it is a genuine collaboration of an Israeli and a Palestinian scholar: Nurith Gertz is professor of cinema and literature in the Open University and Tel Aviv University, Israel; George Khleifi is a Palestinian filmmaker and Deputy Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University, Ramallah. It is one of the rare and insightful studies on the cinema of Palestine that addresses the question of cinema’s relation to the complex issues of nation, national identity and borders, while specifically analyzing selected films from four prominent Palestinian directors, along with shorter discussions of many other Palestinian filmmakers. On its cover there is an image of a woman ninja, surrounded by her bullet-proof aura, confronting the gun men aiming at her, taken from a scene from Elia Suleiman’s surreal Divine Intervention (France/Morocco/Germany/Palestine 2002). Suleiman is known for his idiosyncratic storytelling style, putting himself in his stories as the silent protagonist who, by virtue of his “transnational” life style, also acquires an observer’s standpoint. In an interview published in the Journal of Palestine Studies (2000)[1] , Suleiman says “I am aware of the need for a people to share a common language, a way of living together in security and democracy, but I will always question this collective notion of ‘nation’.” (p. 96) The book’s last chapter is dedicated to his work, heralding the progressive viewpoint that Palestinian cinema has arrived.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The introduction presents Palestine in a wider historical context. Its literature review constructs the key points of Palestinian cinema’s fundamental bond to the nation’s memory and historical narrative. By doing that it provides the cultural and political perspective which will guide the readers as they peruse the book. In addition to that, the first chapter chronicles the development of a national cinema by dividing it into four suggested periods: The first period: the beginning, 1935-48; the second period: the epoch of silence: 1948-67; the third period: cinema in exile, 1968-82; and the fourth period: the return home, from 1980 to the present. This structure prepares a basis for the following chapters which illustrate these periods using thematic approaches linked to selected directors.

Briefly giving historical accounts of this unique national cinema, the first chapter also depicts the Palestinian “landscape” where there is a scarcity of institutional support that also enabled the cinema to “enjoy creative freedom”; the period of total silence in cinema (post 1948 until late 60s); revival of a “revolutionary” (p. 22) cinema seen as “a significant tool for the advancement of” (p. 22) Palestinian struggle. National identity and the national struggle of recognition come out as the political point of departure in almost all early Palestinian films. These are works of cultural and political significance, especially because they document the Palestinian memory, and the present that exits under the discourse of a haunting past. While the cinema of the 70s is represented as a cinema that commits itself “to the Palestinian revolution and Arab causes” (p. 59), films from the 80s and the 90s are seen as directors’ individual efforts for a reconceptualization of the Palestinian narrative, taking heart from personal memoirs and interviews. Starting with Michel Khlefi, most of these films are considered as attempts to establish a sense of communal identity, a national unity.

Acknowledged as the “new Palestinian cinema”, films of the late 90s and the present reflect the idea of “overcoming loss and regaining control over reality, in terms of time and space” (p. 85). It is a cinema of recent Palestinian filmmakers, who are now scattered around the world, searching for new means of expression. This is a quest to give voice to the stories of Palestinian society, stories which otherwise would fall on deaf ears of both the political establishments and the rest of the world.

The book surveys the complex existence of Palestinian society and national cinema and a group of diverse filmmakers. It shows the evolving nature of Palestinian cinema that transcends the borders of politics, a cinema that discovers new perspectives. The thematic alteration and progression of the films are arguably faster than the nearly invisible changes in the currently dark conditions of Palestine. Nevertheless, the organic connection between the realities of the land and the filmic representations of its psyche look to the possibility of a stabilized, borderless and a peaceful future that has been long awaited.

Seyda Aylin Gurses,
University of Miami, USA.


Hjort, M. & Mackenzie, S. (Eds.), (2000). Cinema and Nation. London: Routledge.
Elia Suleiman, “A Cinema of Nowhere, An interview with Elia Suleiman”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 95-101.

[1]Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 95-101.

Created on: Sunday, 30 August 2009

About the Author

Seyda Aylin GursesSeyda Aylin Gurses has recently earned her doctoral degree at the University of Miami, Florida where she developed and taught film courses. Last year she worked on a research project as a Visiting Scholar for the Women’s Studies Program at the Northeastern University, Boston. In 2011 she visited Israel for her future research project as part of another degree she will be pursuing in the International Studies at the University of Miami, as she carries on her work in the realm of film studies.View all posts by Seyda Aylin Gurses →