Art in the fight for freedom

May 24, 2017

WASHINGTON (WRMEA) - Funded by Kickstarter and international grants, the next generation of Palestinian filmmakers are operating out of a refugee camp in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. 

“Not everybody in the world knows that we are human, that we ride horses, that we have cars,” said Mohammed Haj Ibrahim, a filmmaker, multimedia coordinator and instructor at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. “We want them to know.”

The short films were screened at the Palestine Center on May 23, 2017, to a small but invested audience ranging from college students to seniors. Chosen by a committee of directors from the Freedom Theatre, the three narratives depicted the lives of Palestinians in Jenin through different perspectives.

“Journey of a Freedom Fighter” follows Rabea Turkman, an ex-guerrilla fighter who laid down his gun to join the Freedom Theatre. Ibrahim began profiling Turkman shortly after he first joined the theater in 2007, but set the project aside to pursue others. Then, on April 30, 2013, Turkman died of kidney failure due to injuries sustained as a fighter during the second Palestinian intifada. 

“After the funeral, the idea came back again,” Ibrahim said. “[Rabea’s] story should be shown to everyone, we can’t hide it in our drawers.”

The film has now been screened at seven film festivals around the globe, from Europe to America. The most emotional, however, was the screening at the Freedom Theatre, with Turkman’s friends and family in the audience. After the screening, a friend of Turkman’s, shown in the film arguing against Turkman’s decision to leave the armed resistance, stood up with tears in his eyes. 

“We were wrong,” he said. “I am very sorry for all the things I said. I am with Rabea.”

The second film was titled “Yumkin,” an Arabic word often translated as “Maybe.” The alternate translation, however, was perhaps more befitting —“It is possible.” It told the story of an aspiring female filmmaker at Freedom Theatre, Suzanne Wasfi, who fights to pursue her dream and finds inspiration in a young girl breaking similar barriers in the equestrian community. 

Wasfi isn’t the only woman to find a place at Freedom Theatre, where Ibrahim said some classes now have more female students than male. He said the theater’s role in promoting female empowerment through art is one of the accomplishments of which he is most proud.

Art, Wasfi said in the film, “is my weapon. The weapon of freedom.” 

The third film, “The Racer,” tells the story of race car driver Islam Abu Syria. An uplifting tale, his success is an inspiration to a population accustomed to hardship and conflict. The Freedom Theatre itself has come under attack, and members of its staff have been arrested, and its founder, Arna Mer Khamis, was assassinated. Still, they continue to train Palestinians in a range of art forms, from acting to photography. 

“Our aim is not only to produce something,” Ibrahim said. “It is to give them a chance to express themselves…to work with the people here from their insides to [get them to] believe in themselves.”

Ana SrikanthComment