Getting to know a people and a culture

Films by and about Palestinians will screen on Sundays this month

BRATTLEBORO-"I don't know what it's like to live in Palestine, but through these films, I think I have a better idea; I would hope that anyone watching [them] would have a similar experience."

So says Shana Frank of Putney, a math educator who has coordinated a four-part Palestine film series to be offered every Sunday this April at 4 p.m. at the Latchis Theatre, 50 Main St.

The series is presented by Southern Vermont for Palestine (SoVT4P), described in a news release as "a group of local residents who came together in October to organize rallies, protests, and events focused on Palestinian rights and freedom from occupation."

Part of the statewide Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, SoVT4P is "a growing collaboration of 10 groups and hundreds of individuals working together for a free Palestine."

Coalition members include New Hampshire Jewish Voice for Peace; the Vermont Law and Graduate School chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; UVM Students for Justice in Palestine; and Vermonters for Justice in Palestine.

"There's no political agenda" behind the series, Frank stresses. "We just want to offer exposure to a body of people who might not be too well-known, and to maybe break down some of the stereotypes and biases we have from the media. Not knowing these people personally and being presented with images of who they are and what they represent can be misleading."

The hope, says Frank, is that "people feel more informed about who Palestinians are, what their history is, what their hopes and dreams are, what some of their values are in terms of family and education."

Frank adds that a common theme across the series is "young people who are facing the challenges that most young people do growing up, with the added challenge of living in a country that's experienced a number of wars, even in their lifetime."

But these stories depict other casualties of this violence, too.

"Education has always been highly prized there," Frank says. "Students want to go on to college and get jobs that reflect their education, and we don't realize the limitations that the occupation and the siege have put on young people."

She expects that viewers may well identify with what they witness, and perhaps think to themselves, "That could be my son or daughter's friend," "that could be my grandson," or "that could be my child."

"The people in the films talk about everyday life" and how the turmoil raises such obdurate barriers to their progress. As Frank points out, "They want the same things we do."

Activists say that media blur impressions of Palestinian people with Hamas or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but Frank says "that's not representative of the Palestinian people as a whole. Palestinians are people with a culture, a history that goes way back - the series isn't intended to change people's minds: It's to open people's minds."

Local Palestinians have been involved in producing the series, and they will also introduce some of the films and lead discussion sessions at the end of each evening.

"Given that these participants are well-versed in Palestinian history and aware of the political dynamic," Frank adds, the hope "is that these will be open forums for respectful and cordial dialogue."

This series of voices and stories about Palestine - and from Palestinian perspectives - includes documentaries, short films, animation, and features, including The Present, an Oscar nominee.

All of the films are "by and about Palestinians," according to a press release, on topics as varied as "Palestinian agriculture and industry, drama, youth and gender roles, refugees, politics, and diplomacy."

A list of potential choices was compiled by members of SoVT4P, including Nell Koenings, a professor of anthropology at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Their final choices "best fit the criteria of films that are cinematically engaging and that put human faces on the Palestinian struggle," Frank says.

The theme unifying the April 7 selections is "The Nakba and Its Legacy," and the featured film will be The Tower, an animated short about a young girl's search for stories about three generations of her family.

The family members took refuge in Lebanon after they were forced to flee Galilee in 1948 during the Nakba, when a nascent Israel expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and villages.

Also screening on April 7 are two documentaries: Framed: The Politics of Stereotypes in the News, an animated short about Edward Said's concept of Orientalism and the ways it "perpetuates myths and creates false narratives about people from other cultures," and The Nakba: How Palestinians Were Expelled from Their Homes, a recounting of Palestinian history since the Ottoman Empire.

The evening's program will be introduced by Sarah E. Jenkins, professor of animation, creative arts, and visual culture at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The theme for April 14 is "Secret Negotiations and Palestinian Resistance," which includes The Oslo Accords: Failure or Betrayal and The Wanted.

April 21 will focus on "Life in Occupied Palestine" with My Neighborhood, We Teach Life, Dispossession, Shades of Anger, Resistance, Human Rights, and The Present.

The final evening in the series will zero in on "Palestinian Resilience" with Made in Palestine, Farming Under Fire in Gaza, Return to Seifa Village, Gaza Monologues: A Documentary, and Horizon.

The series is open to all.

Frank notes that SoVT4P has reached out to Brattleboro Union High School's Peace Jam, the film studies program at Keene State College, and the Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to encourage attendance.

Admission is by donation, Frank explains. "A lot of the filmmakers are not charging us for their films, and we are paying only a small fee for others. The Latchis is generously providing a space to us with a minimal fee for overhead, and we have support from private donors."

For more on the Palestine Film Series, visit

This Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.

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