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Palestinian director Kamal Aljafari’s response to archival theft—A Fidai Film—will be shown in Vancouver

A Fidai Film
An image from Kamal Aljafari's A Fidai Film.

On Monday (April 29), the river to the sea collective and Cinema Workers for Palestine will present a special preview screening of a film at the Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street) addressing Israel’s plundering of Palestinian archival material. The organizers say that this will mark the first time that Kamal Aljafari’s A Fidai Film will be seen in public in North America.

Aljafari is a Berlin-based Palestinian filmmaker and former Film Study Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University. He has also taught filmmaking at the New School in New York and the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie in Berlin.

According to a statement by event organizers, A Fidai Film “creates a counter-narrative” to the loss of archival material. Moreover, they maintain that it presents “a form of cinematic reclamation that seeks to embrace and restore the plundered memories and representations of Palestinian history”.

In Arabic, fidaï means “the one who dedicates his life to a cause”.

A Fidai Film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. and there are no reservations. Entrance is by donation suggested at $10, with proceeds going to Palestinian relief.

Watch a trailer for Kamal Aljafari’s A Fidai Film.

A Fidai Film addresses historical loss

There was a large theft of Palestinian archival material, including documentaries and films, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

One of the biggest international news stories of 1982 was the mass murder of between 700 and 3,500 civilians in Beirut’s Sabra neighbourhood and the nearby Shatila refugee camp. Between September 16 and 18, a Christian militia went on a killing spree, targeting mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shias.

It came more than three months after Israel forces moved into southern Lebanon in response to an attempted assassination of Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. Israel’s goal was to wipe out the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was then led by Yasser Arafat. PLO leaders fled to Tripoli.

In February of 1983, an independent commission—chaired by an assistant to the United Nations secretary-general—concluded that the Israel Defence Forces, as the occupying power, bore responsibility for what happened in Sabra and at the Shatila camp. The same month, an Israeli commission held the Israel Defence Forces indirectly responsible. That led to the resignation of then-defence minister Ariel Sharon, who went on to become prime minister in 2001.

But there was another event following Israel’s invasion that did not warrant nearly as much international attention at the mass murders. In searching for documentation about the PLO, Israeli forces conducted a raid on the Palestine Research Center in Beirut, taking away the archives. The center, which was established in 1965, was a huge storehouse of books, research papers, microfilms, and other materials documenting the history and culture of the Palestinian people, villages, and individual families.

A Fidai Film
Kamal Aljafari’s film re-imagines lost archival material.

Israeli researcher writes about archives

Some of this material was later returned. However, Rona Sela, a curator and researcher of visual history at Tel Aviv University, revealed in 2017 that Israeli forces had also seized many films and documentaries from another archive during the 1982 invasion. She discovered them in an Israel Defence Forces archive in Tel Aviv.

In another paper published in 2018, Sela noted that only a few dozen films have been publicly released. Moreover, she stated that there are no clear rules on what can be disclosed.

“Although some of the archive materials are from non-Palestinian entities, many of the existing materials in [the] IDF Archive were filmed by Palestinians and shed light on the documentation of Palestinian visual history and resistance,” Sela wrote in her 2018 paper. “They make it possible to expose their self-representation, one that is non-Western and not contaminated by colonial aspects (Denes 2014222).

“I was unable to find information in the IDF Archive regarding the identity of the institute/entity from which the films were seized,” Sela continued. “They are catalogued at the IDF Archive as ‘PLO Archive,’ where in fact no such institution exists.”

The organizers of the screening of A Fidai Film said in their statement that the director, Kamal, “astutely weaves and bobs, reconstituting a lineage of presence and loss”. They call this “a subjective reconfiguring, and suturing of Palestinian resistance cinema as it is woven in a history that blankets the present, where the act/action and image are one”.

“This an exquisite sensualizing restitution of the archive, fluid, lyrical, demanding epic critical poetry, a personal essay too cryptic de/contextual for many and inedible for some yet truly a feast for the eyes.”

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.