Memory, Archive and Belonging feature in Encounters Palestinian Focus

Published Jun 14, 2024


Three very different documentaries by Palestinians that are deeply intertwined with themes of memory, archive, and belonging, offer a profound exploration of identity and historical consciousness in this year’s Encounters South African International Documentary Festival which takes place in Cape Town and Johannesburg from 20 to 30 June 20 to 30.

These films delve into the collective and personal memories of displacement, loss, resilience, and longing serving as both a documentation and a reclamation of memory. They illuminate the enduring quest for stability, resolution and belonging amidst the enduring struggles of the Palestinian people, presenting a heartfelt testament to their spirit and the continued struggles that still lie ahead.

When the Israeli Defence Forces invaded Southern Lebanon in the summer of 1982, they stole the archive collection of photographs and film from Beirut’s Palestine Research Centre. In this hypnotic and deftly constructed experimental film, Palestinian director and artist Kamal Aljafari reclaims these images, reconstructing them into a narrative of fragmentation that is far more reflective of the region’s history than the one presented in western media. While its bewitching broken beauty is engaging on its own terms, A Fidai Film is fundamentally a political act that transcends the usual parameters of cinema. By re-appropriating the archive - so filled with life, memories, and otherwise invisible histories - Aljafari counters the ongoing attempt to erase the visual and institutional memory of the region, and shows how the plundering of memory is central to the broader violence of imperialism.

‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ directed by Lina Soualem is an intimately made film that chronicles the life and family history of the great Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, most familiar to mainstream Western audiences for her role as Marcia Roy in the TV series Succession. Abbas is an extraordinary actress with a remarkable presence, and she has lived a dynamic and full life that is well worth documenting. Her personal history is never separated from the Middle East’s deep cultural richness and political volatility. Abbas has French and Israeli citizenship and was born to a family of Muslim Arabs in Nazareth, so her very existence is deeply rooted in historical complexity. Directed and narrated by Soualem, Abbas’ daughter, the film is bathed in the empathy of the personal, even as it cannot escape the fact that the place that birthed so many of Abbas’ memories is under existential threat.

‘No Other Land’ by filmmakers Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham documents Adra’s powerful first-person account of living in the Palestinian village of Masafer Yatta, located in an area of the West Bank occupied by the Israeli army, who have declared it a training ground and are intent on removing the local population and their homes, even though they have been living there since the 19th century. As demolition order after demolition order is carried out by the soldiers and their tanks and bulldozers, the families are forced to rebuild some semblance of a home - they have nowhere else to go, no other land. Adra spent five years documenting the relentless evictions and demolitions - of homes, playgrounds, chicken coops, water wells, and even a school - often in the company of sympathetic Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham, and the resulting film is a vital addition to the documentary canon. But it is also, more importantly, an undeniable record of events that receive little attention in the world’s news sites and television feeds.

There are post film discussion on the Palestinian focussed films curated in partnership with Cinema Solidarity:

Bye Bye Tiberias: “Vanished Places, Scattered Memories”: Saturday 22 June 7.30pm (The Labia Theatre, Cape Town)

A Fidai Film: “Reclamation, Restoration, Resistance”: Sunday 23 June at 1pm (Bertha Movie House, Khayetlisha, Cape Town)

A Fidai Film: “Notes on the Archives”: Sunday 23 June at 1pm (Bioscope, Johannesburg)

No Other Land: “Inevitability and Temporal Reflections Amidst Crisis”: Sunday 23 June 2pm (Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, Cape Town).

Bye Bye Tiberias: “On Exile, Homelands, Return and Memory”: Sunday 23 June at 3pm (The Bioscope Independent Cinema, Johannesburg)

No Other Land: “The Artist as Witness, Ally and Friend”: Sunday 30 June at 4.30pm (The Zone@Rosebank, Johannesburg)

Cinemas that will screen the 2024 Encounters’ line-up:

In Cape Town - Ster-Kinekor V&A Waterfront, The Labia Theatre

In Johannesburg - The Zone @ Rosebank, The Bioscope Independent Cinema