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Wednesday June 23, 2010 9:05 AM (EST+7)
Video arts festival breaks Gaza isolation

Read more: art, video art, video, film, contemporary art, art festival, seige, cosure, blockade

GAZA CITY, June 23 (JMCC) – All three halls at the Windows from Gaza for Contemporary Arts Atelier in Gaza were full as audiences watched works of video art presented in the Gaza International Festival for Video Art launched Saturday.

Thirty-five films by artists from the US, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Arab countries and the occupied Palestinian territories were screened in the week-long festival.

But despite tradition, none of the foreign filmmakers participated in the opening ceremonies in Gaza. Their works were emailed to the festival organizers to be shown at venues in Gaza, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Rafah, Jabalia refugee camp and Bethlehem.

We hope that this idea will help us to strengthen our communication with the outside world, said Shareef Sarhan, festival organizer.

Sarhan says that the festival is an attempt to break the siege imposed on Palestinians, artists in particular, in Gaza. Some artists and painters have managed to leave Gaza to participate in international festivals, but most of them have not.

The video art project emerged of Gaza's dire need for wider cultural horizons, which have been badly affected by siege and isolation.

We hope that this festival will give Palestinian artists and audiences a chance to enjoy, appreciate and reflect on local and international cultures, Sarhan said.

Israel largely closed Gaza to imports and exports and the movement of people after Palestinian fighters captured an Israeli soldier in June 2006.


The first video project screened by the festival was the Leonard Cohen song Death after Death sang by Palestinian and Jordanian artists. In the festival’s pamphlet, the group writes that they “used his concept of normal, natural death as a pretext to look at the irony of our imposed death, the horrifying death of our human being and the phosphoric death in Palestine.

Death After Death was written by a Zionist poet praising the Israeli army in its war against Egypt in 1973.

“But this one is to honor the Palestinian children killed by the Israeli war on Gaza, as well as a result of the siege, Sarhan said.


In cities other than Gaza, collaborating art organizations screened the festival’s works. The Palestinian Art Court – al-Haosh is in charge of showing the video art in occupied East Jerusalem.
Mirna Bamieh, coordinator of the group’s visual arts program, said that al-Haosh was pleased to receive an invitation to participate in a festival organized in Gaza.

It is a great idea and has a special flavor to organize a festival like this in Gaza, which suffers from the siege, she said. Al-Hoash was to screen nine art pieces on Tuesday.

It really is a strong double message – these people living under siege are struggling for their humanity and for art which knows no borders, Bamieh went on. It has both a message about art and a message about politics, which says that Gaza and Jerusalem is a one country.


The festival was supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Yosri Darwish, head of the cultural centers union, called the festival a national achievement for Gaza and one of the tools in the hands of artists to break the siege imposed on Gaza.

Darwish also said that he was “not fully comfortable that such activities are funded by international organizations. We thank the SDC,” he says, “but I wish that such activities would also be locally funded.

He says that cultural centers depend more on international funding since the political factions became embroiled in internal conflict. After the Islamic faction Hamas won 2006 parliamentary elections, it and its rival faction Fateh became engaged in a struggle for control.


Majed Shala, member of the committee in charge of the festival, said that 97 films were submitted by artists all over the world, but 53 were selected to participate in the show.

The artistic value, the strength of the idea, the direction and the concentration of the idea of the film were the main bases for selection, said artist and member of the selection committee Fayez al-Sirsawi. Films were to be between one and 11 minutes in length.

Al-Sirsawi said that the films deal with the environment and social and political issues, but the main subject is the daily life of people.

An audience member, Samah Abu Yousef, said that she was hungry to see new things in Gaza.

Honestly, I am not so interested in video art,” she explained, “but I have come to see other people from outside. I would like to see new cultures, she said.






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