Leeds is gearing up for the much-anticipated ninth Leeds Palestinian Film Festival, which is set to begin this Saturday, with the Lord Mayor of Leeds launching the event. This year’s event promises a compelling firsthand account of life in the West Bank, uncovering hidden stories that shed light on the rich history, culture, and politics of the Palestinian people.
Last year, the Sheffield choir Tadhamon (solidarity) embarked on a transformative journey to the West Bank. Moved by the impassioned plea of the people they encountered, who urged them to tell their story. Tadhamon returns to the festival this year with a poignant presentation. Their narrative, complemented by visuals and song, will follow the Lord Mayor’s address, offering a unique perspective on the experiences of those living in the West Bank.
Prior to the main event, at 3pm, Tadhamon will host an open singing workshop where they will teach some of their songs in both English and Arabic. The workshop will be open to all and requires no prior singing experience and participants will have the opportunity to then join the singing during the main presentation. This inclusive approach aims to connect the audience directly with the cultural richness of the West Bank.
At 5:15pm, a Middle Eastern buffet will be served, with all attendees and workshop participants invited to indulge in the flavours of the region. The festival organisers are keen that all events are designed to be safe spaces for constructive and respectful dialogue, fostering understanding and care for others. They commented:
“With the current horrific violent loss of life in Palestine/Israel, we feel our Festival is more important now than ever. It provides invaluable context to illuminate the root causes of the present violence, and to develop responses grounded in understanding and care for others.
“The aims of our 13 outstanding and thought-provoking events are to shine a light on hidden stories of Palestinians, their history, culture and politics, and to challenge stereotypes by portraying a people in all their diversity.
“All our events will be safe spaces for constructive and respectful dialogue, with no place for racism, xenophobia or aggression.”
In a world marked by violence and conflict, the festival aims to provide context and illuminate the root causes of present-day struggles.
The history of Leeds Palestinian Film Festival
The Leeds Palestinian Film Festival had humble beginnings in 2015, starting with just five films and a minimal budget. Since then, it has grown exponentially, becoming a significant fixture in the Leeds cultural calendar. This year, the Lord Mayor of Leeds will inaugurate the festival, which boasts 13 events, including film screenings, musical performances, embroidery displays, and singing sessions, taking place in various venues across the city. Many films will be accompanied by Q&A sessions with directors and experts, to enrich the audience’s experience.
The festival’s growth and success are attributed to a dedicated team of volunteers collaborating with diverse partners to reach audiences throughout the city. Generous support from funders has also played a crucial role in making the festival a reality. As the festival directors assert, this year’s instalment is more important than ever, providing invaluable context to understand the root causes of the ongoing violence in Palestine/Israel and fostering a space for diverse voices to be heard.
Organisers invite attendees to immerse themselves in the untold stories of the Palestinian people. Through the lens of film, music, and cultural exploration, the festival strives to challenge stereotypes and create spaces for meaningful dialogue, fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding the region. In a world grappling with division, the festival stands as a beacon of unity, solidarity, and the power of storytelling.
This year’s theme is ‘Hidden Stories’ and there are some films that organisers are particularly proud to bring to light.
Tomorrow’s Freedom (2022) – The lack an effective leadership uniting Palestinians is often lamented. In a highly personal portrait, this film reveals Marwan Barghouthi, serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison and dubbed the ‘Palestinian Nelson Mandela’, as the one man who may hold the key to peace. The former Guardian journalist Victoria Brittain will discuss the film afterwards.
ISMA3: The Sound of Palestinian Resistance – A warm evening of music, film and discussion with the Jenin-born, London-based Palestinian artist and musician Mo’min Swaitat, with a fascinating story and collection of lost tapes of old bedouin music and revolutionary Palestinian songs.
Israelism (2023) – Made by two American Jews and currently drawing crowds across the United States. Raised to unconditionally love Israel, they uncover the hidden truth behind the stories they grew up on. They join a movement of young Jews seeking to redefine Judaism’s relationship with Israel. A Q&A discussion will take place afterwards with the director Erin Axelman.
Walls Cannot Keep Us From Flying (2021) – To get down and to always get back up again! On this evening, in collaboration with @Souqsounds, we will be celebrating the emergence of the Palestinian skate scene in the West Bank and in Gaza over the last ten years. Afterwards, there will be a live online discussion with Palestinian skaters in the West Bank, and artist and researcher Dani Abulhawa will explore the value of skateboarding subculture in Palestine.
Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2023 begins this Saturday at 6pm, at St George’s Conference Centre. More information can be found on the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival website.