Bringing the outside inside

Georgina Reeves, Ahdaf trustee, describes a new Cinema Club run by students on our joint Fobzu-Ahdaf scholarship scheme

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of films about Palestine. Most are not made by Palestinians from within historic Palestine; many more are made by non Palestinians. And rarely are any of these films screened inside Palestine. So this gave us pause for thought; what do Palestinians inside Palestine know of how their struggle is portrayed and how their stories are told?

We thought we’d discuss this problem with our students, to see what solutions we could come up with. We run joint projects, where the students learn to work together on activities or events, so the representation of Palestine through film seemed like a perfect idea to work on.

Adel and Issa are both on the joint Ahdaf and Friends of Birzeit University scholarship, and they took the initiative to develop this idea. From a thought, to a conversation, to an idea, to action: this is how the Cinema Club project has come into being.

‘Claim new thoughts’ is the Cinema Club’s slogan. Adel and Issa wanted to stimulate their peers in an intellectual way, enabling them to express their thoughts freely to others. The forum the Cinema Club provides encourages the process of claiming and exchanging thoughts with respect, maturity and constructive criticism. Adel and Issa see the Cinema Club as a solution to engage students in issues that matter and impact their communities.

Films are screened weekly at Birzeit to students and anyone else interested in coming along, and they’re not restricted to the theme of Palestine. Other Arab films also get a look in. After the screening, the audience discuss the characters, the storyline and the message of the film. Through discussion, everyone is invited to express their thoughts freely and debate is encouraged.

The audience has positively welcomed the initiative. The feedback has been really encouraging and there has been lots of interest in getting involved. They collectively discuss what films to select, and there are always lots of ideas.

Adel says: “When we choose the films we try to relate them to our society and what we face every day. For example tolerance, accepting others, racism, factionalism, the occupation. All these problems that we face in our life as Palestinian youth. We meet, watch the film, discuss ideas afterwards. And it’s not just a meeting about the film; the idea is to discuss things and expand our vision about a particular idea and to exchange our thoughts with each other.”

Ahdaf wants to expand this project, to make it truly inclusive by providing groups of our students with equipment to set up similar clubs across Palestine. We don’t see this as restricted to students or university campuses either. We’d like to see street screenings, for example. By taking advantage of public spaces anyone can get involved. It’s already proven to be an excellent way to engage youth to promote discussion, share ideas, ask questions and try to make sense of the big issues facing Palestinian society.

The Cinema Club typifies how Ahdaf works. The students have full ownership and control over their projects, including decision making. We’re always here to support, guide or discuss whenever they need us. But Ahdaf has never sought to impose ideas or restrictions; in fact it’s the opposite. We want to empower youth in Palestine so that they can be catalysts in their community to bring about the kind of changes they see their society needs.