A Cinema For Peace – “Cinema Jenin”
In times of great hardship culture in particular can be of vital help. Cinema as a place where people can watch “moving” pictures takes on an especially important role for in the darkened atmosphere of a movie theatre people not only become part of a community that helps them establish their identity, but are also able to develop a form of refreshing individuality. What happens though when there is no cinema anymore?
This is the case in Jenin in the north of the West Bank – that much disputed area situated between Israel and the Palestinian Autonomous Authority. The town, about 40 kilometres away from Nablus, now has about 50,000 residents (most of them in fact young people in their teens from the nearby UN refugee camp). German cinema experts would classify it as a “mid-range” venue. Ever since the armed conflict between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters in April 2002, in which many civilians lost their lives, the mood in Jenin has become particularly explosive. In the meantime the whole of Jenin has been more or less cut off from the outside world – surrounded by barbed wire and guards.
In the meantime however, just a few years after the conflict, the Palestinian activist, Ismael Khateeb, has set an amazing signal for peace. As the father of a five-year-old boy who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the refugee camp on 5th November 2005, he donated his son’s organs to - of all people – Israeli children. This incident stirred up a good deal of interest on the part of the international media. Some time later the renowned documentary filmmaker from Tübingen in Germany, Marcus Vetter (winner of the Adolf Grimme Prize for The Tunnel in 2000), decided to make a film about this incredible gesture. In collaboration with his co-director, Lior Geller, he made The Heart of Jenin and in February 2009 both directors were awarded the Berlin “Cinema For Peace” prize for “the most valuable documentary of the year”.
No movie screens within a radius of 100 kilometres
Vetter’s work in the Middle East is however not over by a long chalk. In 2006 the north-Italian town of Cuneo opened a cultural centre for young people in the Jenin refugee camp in honour of Ismael Khateeb. The aim is to help the young people there to learn about how to work with the media of film, video and computer. The people in charge however failed to notice that there was no decent-sized film screen available in the area to show the films the teenagers had made. The nearest movie theatre is in Ramallah, almost 100 kilometres away from Jenin.
This is when Vetter the filmmaker came back into the game. He, along with some of his friends in Tübingen, hit upon the idea of re-opening the old “Cinema Jenin” – a 400-seat movie theatre that had been closed since the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987. Vetter and his equally as obsessed film friends founded the One World Cinema Foundation, not only with the aim of promoting film and cinema culture in the Middle East, but all over the world. And as is stated in their statutes, to promote it “in such a way as to ensure sustainable development, cultural understanding and a decent education.”
Digital technology to facilitate distribution
According to information from Vetter’s fellow campaigner, Carsten Schuffert, a cinema technology specialist also from Tübingen, the “Cinema Jenin” club is active in Jenin at the moment. The project is being supported by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as by the Goethe-Institut and members of the German film cinema sector. “With the help of volunteers from Germany, Israel and Palestine the refurbishment of the building is in full swing and in the summer of 2009 they hope to start moving in the technology,” reports Schuffert.
Schuffert places great emphasis on the fact that only the most modern projection technology is to be installed. There are practical reasons for this – “In the occupied territories the logistics of delivering copies of the films is still quite difficult, as many a letter or parcel does not reach the address it is supposed to go to. Digital distribution via satellite will in the long run bring about more freedom and reliability.” Furthermore according to Schuffert the range of films available in the Arab region is “strictly limited” and centres mostly on local productions. Subtitled 35-mm copies would be too expensive and time-consuming. Schuffert: “Digital technology makes the rights clearance and the provision of copies of top-quality films from all over the world much easier. A “film institute” attached to the cinema will do the Arabic subtitling which will then be integrated into the digital copies.”
The opening of the “Cinema Jenin” is planned for autumn 2009 – provided political circumstances do not put a spoke in the organisers’ wheels. By the end of 2010 the cinema is to have been enhanced by a cultural centre in which young people can train to become filmmakers, stage directors or photographers. Apart from all that a documentary film is also being made at the moment about the reactivation of the old movie theatre and the young people who – as the people in charge said – “are taking part in the reconstruction of what is to be their future stage”.
works as a free-lance journalist, author and podcaster in Munich (http://filmnews.podhost.de).
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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