Late last month, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Lula Lounge, and District Oven hosted the ninth annual Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF). The TPFF is a volunteer-run, non-profit event dedicated to shedding light on Palestinian cinema, music, art, and cuisine. It encompassed various eye-opening films and performances that worked to increase knowledge and awareness of the situation in Palestine.
While the TPFF was largely a screening of films, it featured a performance by world-renowned Palestinian activist and performance poet Rafeef Ziadah with special guest Phil Monsour. A pop art exhibition, a talk by Larissa Sansour, a Palestinian brunch, and a panel titled “Boycott, Censorship, and the Arts” were also included.
Ziadah and Monsour performed at Lula Lounge to an audience that was engaged and mesmerized by Monsour’s guitar skills and Ziadah’s powerful, emotive language.
Some notable films shown included: 3000 Nights, Occupation of the American Mind, A Magical Substance Flows Into Me, and The Idol.
3000 Nights, a drama, focuses on the imprisonment of a newly married Palestinian teacher who is accused of aiding a terrorist in an Israeli prison. She finds out she is pregnant and must consequently make several difficult choices. The film explores the relationships of female Palestinian political prisoners and Israeli criminals, the idea of resistance and sacrifice, and the conditions of Israeli prisons.
Occupation of the American Mind is more academic in nature than the other films. It features professors and dignitaries in conversation on the representation of Palestinian-Israeli relations and Israel as a state in American media, in an attempt to criticize the supposed one-sidedness of American media.
A Magical Substance Flows Into Me has an interesting combination of real-life shots, cartooned animation, silent scenes, and chaotically loud ones, while expressing an intimate, personal, and comfortable sentiment that isn’t as blatantly political as the other films. It follows the journey of Palestinian artist Jumana Manna, who was inspired by Robert Lachmann’s studies on music in Palestine throughout the Palestinian territories and Israel.
Lachmann hosted a radio show in the 1930s called Oriental Music that portrayed the musical traditions of Palestine as performed by different religious, ethnic, and national groups. Manna travels through the area with recordings from the show and asks various groups, including Moroccans, Samaritans, Bedouins, and Coptic Christians to perform their songs. Lines are blurred between the groups and the focus becomes the music. This theme of breaking down barriers between people is fitting for a film festival in a diverse city like Toronto.
A film based on a true story of the Palestinian artist Mohammed Assaf, The Idol follows the Gaza native and his passion for singing but lack of access to any formal musical training. The film follows his story of success, from singing on the streets and at weddings in Gaza to winning Arab Idol. His victory is shared by Palestinian people everywhere.
Overall, the festival was immersed in the language and attitude of resistance; it celebrated Palestinian art and culture and was definitely worth checking out.