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Toronto Palestine Film Festival showcases films in a climate of 'reel' danger

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In between the dazed superstars, American wannabe blockbusters and the Canadian red carpets of the Toronto International Film Festival, a heartening chink in the mainstream discourse emerged. It was the Reel Palestine panel on September 9, 2013 at the University of Toronto's Innis Town Hall. Moderated by Rasha Salti, curator, writer and TIFF Programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema, the panel included Hany Abu-Asad (dir. Omar, Paradise Now, Rana's Wedding), Mais Darwazah (dir. My Love Awaits Me by the Sea), Rani Massalha (dir. Giraffada; TPFF 2013: Elvis of Nazareth).

Co-sponsored by U of T's Cinema Studies Institute, this panel gave of hint of what is to come Saturday, September 28 when the 6th Annual Toronto Palestinian Film Festival opens. British-based Palestinian filmmaker Mais Darwazah gives an impression of what it was like to swim amongst the Hollywood machine.

"Being a person from the Palestinian diaspora, it was really fruitful to be at TIFF amongst other Palestinian and Arab films," says Darwazah. "To be present within such a dynamic pushes for further questionings and contemplations and in a way puts things in a larger context."

TPFF opens on September 28 with Annemarie Jacir's award-winning film When I Saw You, which was selected as the Palestinian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards. Set in 1967 Jordan, When I Saw You is the story of a young boy and his mother searching for freedom and hope.

September 30 showcases Picasso in Palestine, directed by Rashid Masharawi, a film which documents a Picasso exhibit in a Ramallah gallery. On October 1, Infiltrators by Khaled Jarrar about Palestinians going over, under and through the Wall will be presented. Omar Hamilton, director of the accompanying short film Though I Know the River is Dry will also be in attendance.

On Wednesday, October 2, the Arab World Perspective Program presents Toronto filmmaker Kathy Wazana's They Were Promised the Sea. Shot in Morocco and Israel-Palestine, Wazana's film is part historical investigation and part poetic musical essay on loss, longing and the possibilities of coexistence. The director will be in attendance.

October 3 looks at Palestinians in the Diaspora. The Shebabs of Yarmouk follows a group of youths in a refugee camp in Syria trying to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Serene Al Ahmad, director of Zinco, the accompanying short documentary, will be in attendance at this screening.

TPFF closes the festival with the critically acclaimed documentary A World Not Ours by Mahdi Fleifel, a piece about three generations of his family and childhood friends still living in a refugee camp.

It wouldn't fully be a Palestinian event without food and music and, as always, the Sahtain! Palestinian Brunch on September 29 is almost sold out. Hosted at social justice centre Beit Zatoun and catered by restaurant 93 Harbord, Sahtain also features a live musical performance by oud master Dr. Radwan Taleb. Afterwards is a free discussion with filmmakers attending the festival, including Omar Robert Hamilton, producer of the Palestine Festival of Literature and a founding member of the Mosireen Collective in Cairo,and Udi Aloni, an artist, writer and filmmaker who also worked with the Cinema Department of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp.

Countering the continually skewed discourse in North America about Arabs in a climate of reel danger, TPFF will provide a valuable, socially responsible Palestinian narrative while celebrating this beleaguered and unique culture, and making it fun!

Image from When I Saw You.

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