Alchemiya is committed to celebrating the rich culture and heritage of the Muslim world. Educating ourselves and others about the traditions and heritage of the Palestinian people is one of the best ways to honour and support them.
Movies, Drama and documentaries have power, and stories that celebrate culture and traditions shape how we see and are seen in the world. They go beyond the news and social media images, creating a deeper understanding about the lives of others.
The conflict in Palestine has once again highlighted the suffering of innocent people and the growing anger at the oppression they face. As we follow the minute to minute events, and reactions of anger shown across the world, we also have a responsibility to learn more about the lives of the Palestinian people and their rich culture and heritage.
Why? Because culture matters. It defines and roots us in this world. There is a strength in knowing our identity, our community, the bonds of family, our roots and heritage. Without these roots, we cannot be stable. Without our identity, heritage and traditions, without strong roots, we will not survive the storms of life. Keeping the memories, traditions and values of this culture alive are important and will help to heal and build what has been lost. A tree with good roots will grow again.
We have curated a collection of films and shorts that tell the story of Palestinian culture, to which we intend to add many others. These stories act as a conduit for us to see a more holistic and detailed picture, that goes beyond the problems and conflicts. As much as we are angry and hurt by their suffering, we support them by keeping alive their stories and their identity, and through praying for a positive peaceful outcome for them, and for all of us fighting to keep alive our culture and heritage.
Animation is a powerful medium. It speaks to us in ways which live action imagery sometimes can’t. In an age as jaded as ours where many have grown desensitised to scenes of chaos and human suffering, animated films often invite us to re-engage with emotions we’ve cut ourselves off from. The Tower is a feature length animated film which does exactly that.
Wardi is a young Palestinian girl who’s spent her entire life between the looming, derelict towers in a refugee camp. The film follows an afternoon in her life as she learns about her family’s history through a series of small conversations with her relatives. In a striking blend of stop motion and 2D animation, the film is an intergenerational and historical saga. The viewer is taken on a piecemeal journey of flashbacks from the Nakba of 1948 (the first mass expulsion of Palestinians by the Israeli state) all the way through to the events which brought Wardi’s family to the camp they live in. It’s a viewing experience both difficult and insightful, tragic and – at times – quite beautiful. Speaking on a personal level this might be the best film I’ve seen in my time at Alchemiya, and would be the first film I would recommend to readers of the journal.
Al Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam after the sanctuaries of Makkah and Madinah and thus the third place that Muslims should visit. Located in Jerusalem, a city central to all three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), the Al Aqsa mosque was one of the destinations of the great night journey and the site from where the Prophet ascended to heaven. Having been the home and resting place of many of the preceding prophets such as David, Solomon and Jesus, Jerusalem as a whole is considered a blessed city and a place, therefore, which should be free and open to all.
In The Furthest Mosque, renowned musician and convert, Hamza (formerly Danny) Thompson takes the prophetic advice to travel to Jerusalem and visit Al Aqsa. Hamza wanders the ancient city, uncovering historic and spiritual gems among its cobbled streets. He converses with Jerusalemites and with scholars to deepen his appreciation of the world within those old Levantine walls. It is quite striking to see the street level reality of the Old City of Jerusalem in 2007 when this documentary was made. Scenes very different from the casual brutalities of the past few weeks.
1948, the Nakbah. We open on a dirt road etched into the Palestinian countryside. A caravan of displaced people, driven from their homes in the now occupied town of Lydda, solemnly trudge along the dusty path. Men, women and children all tired and dishevelled and carrying whatever they could salvage of their former lives as they march into uncertainty.
Among them is a tall and wiry framed man with a brown suitcase, herded along by an impatient Israeli soldier who eventually shoves him to the ground with his rifle’s barrel causing the man’s case to burst open. There are no clothes or valuables, no homely memento’s amidst the clutter which spews forth from that suitcase, instead there are books, paints, brushes and a small canvas. This is our introduction to Ismail Shammout, who would later cement himself as one of the most important Palestinian artists of the 20th century.
This short film recounts a day in the life of the artist and his younger brother Jamal as they try to earn a living and reclaim a sense of normality in the face of the bleak reality before them. Like The Tower it is a film of stark contradictions: aesthetically stunning at the same time as being thematically dismal.
This award winning short film may be set in the past but it speaks volumes about the present which is nicely outlined in a previous Alchemiya Journal article in which we talked to the director Nora Al Sharif.
There are other Palestine related documentaries on Alchemiya including Culture and Imperialism in which Edward Said talks about his book of the same name. First shown in 1993, Said examines how attitudes forged over the past 200 years continue to enforce colonial attitudes and relationships.
There are also several short films with stories of hope, of progress and of success against enormous odds. And of course there’s a documentary about Palestinian food….