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A new documentary, “Flying Paper,” takes us on a cinematic journey into the kite culture among Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip, and their quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown.
The film will be shown at Athens International Film Festival in Ohio starting this week [Editor’s note: the article was originally published before the Festival took place. The Athens International Film and Video Festival took place between April 12 and April 18 2013].
Flying Paper tells the uplifting story of Palestinian youth in Gaza in the run-up to the world record-breaking event, showcasing the creative resilience of youth making and flying kites despite the hardship in their lives.
The feature-length documentary film was directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill, and co-produced with a team of young filmmakers in Gaza. Told through the lens of a handful of children from Jabaliya refugee camp and Seifa village, the film seeks to convey a unique, compelling narrative of life from a place that is very often misrepresented in the mainstream media.
Co-directors of Flying Paper and key members of the production team discussed the film.
Back in 2006, Nitin Sawhney, Assistant Professor of Media Studies at New School for Public Engagement, co-founded the media initiative Voices Beyond Walls (VBW) to run digital storytelling workshops with Palestinian youth in refugee camps, in the West Bank. French freelance photographer Anne Paq joined VBW in 2008. In winter 2009, Sawhney met US documentary filmmaker Roger Hill. They both wanted to shoot a film in Gaza, different in style to most documentaries on Palestine. The subject remained to be determined.
After a first trip to Gaza, Sawhney went back in summer 2010 to set up VBW youth media program in Jabaliya camp. Hill joined him as a trainer, and Paq came later to follow up with the program participants.
Sawhney and Hill felt it was necessary to produce a documentary-length film that would reach wider audiences. They had heard about a forthcoming kite festival, organized by the UN. The Guinness record-breaking attempt seemed to be an ideal cinematic story.
At the end of the youth media program, Sawhney challenged the best trainees: “If you’re really good, I want you to work with me and Roger on a new film project.” They signed on right away. Nearly a dozen youths aged 12-16 moved on to the production set, filming footage across Gaza and documenting the record-breaking festival.
The two central settings of the film are Jabaliya camp and Seifa village. Seifa sits close to Gaza’s northern border with Israel, inside the “buffer zone,” a military no-go area with watchtowers and shooting spots just meters away. Jabaliya, with the largest refugee camp in Gaza, is very densely populated.
To fill in the back-story, Sawhney and Hill looked for good kite makers as potential characters profiling the youth before, during and after the Guinness Record attempt. With the help of the UN, they found a family in Seifa.
Kite maker Musa, young charismatic leader, and his sister Widad, witty and sarcastic, are primary characters. The grandfather, Abu Ziad, village governor, also appears in the film to highlight the connection between his generation and the youth through the kite making tradition. Abeer, 19, leader among the young graduates from VBW program, is narrator and co-producer. “I enjoyed playing both roles,” she says. “I wanted to do make an impact through this film.’’
Abeer was fully involved in the making of Flying Paper, providing contextual information, conducting interviews, filming, giving feedback. “Abeer really helped to carry the film along. She has been vital on camera and behind the scenes,” Hill observes.
Paq, co-producer and photographer, worked with Abeer developing a voice narration, shooting additional segments with her and about daily life in Gaza. Based in the West Bank and often travelling to Gaza, Paq organized film showings, contributed with regular feedback, and facilitated sharing feedback from the Palestinian youth.
Video editor Ahmed Elabd and Emmy award winning editor Rafael Parra took Flying Paper through its final cut. World-acclaimed composer Nitin Sawhney, based in London, contributed with original music throughout the film. Animator Daniel Nienhuis produced animated sequences in the film.
Uzma Hasan, London-based independent producer, came on board last September. Hasan joined to help the film crew to raise finishing funds for completion, and get the film out to wide audiences worldwide.
According to Sawhney, this film is important because it’s purely told through children’s voices. “Those kids live under threat, yet they’re the most hilarious, charming kids you’ll ever meet,’’ the co-director adds.
For Hill, making the film in the voice of Gazan youth was crucial. “I valued the fresh perspective, energy and creativity that the youth brought,” he points out.
Similarly, Paq underlines the films doesn’t have experts talking with the children, or instead of them. “The voices of the youth aren’t taken away; it’s them talking to the camera,” she hints.
Far from being ignored in the film, the general situation in Gaza serves as background for the story. “The film shows many positive things about Gaza, but doesn’t remove the bigger picture,” the photographer clarifies.
The tone of Flying Paper is playful and uplifting. “For a documentary coming out of Gaza, the fact that it keeps you laughing, and breaks your heart, is amazing,” Sawhney notes. Hill thoroughly enjoyed telling a small story within the larger social-political context, with the intention to attract larger audiences who can learn about life in Gaza through the story.
Paq thinks a serious, heavy documentary doesn’t quite reach the public. “If you have a story offering a different dimension, you can touch people in a much stronger way,’’ she argues. Hasan shares similar thoughts. “This film throws a different line on a very over-politicized situation,” she says. “Its essence is incredibly simple, beautiful, and universal.”
Flying Paper captures children’s creative resilience through the kite culture. Sawhney believes the poetics of kites is an easily accessible metaphor for Gazan children. A struggle, in the act of making, and a sense of freedom, in the act of flying.
On the day of the kite festival, children turned up on the beach, ready to fly over 7,000 kites at once. “All those kids looking happy and proud of their achievement send a powerful message to the world,” Paq reflects. Among the many beautiful scenes, Paq points to one where Musa finds his kite broken, and repairs it. “It’s a strong metaphor for life in Gaza, where Palestinians rebuild their lives again,” she says.
Flying Paper was very well perceived in the local communities where it was filmed. “People welcomed a story that isn’t just about their suffering. There’s life, culture, community, love,’’ Hill emphasizes.
Jabaliya camp and Seifa were heavily bombed during Operation Pillar of Defense, last November. Paq was in Gaza to film more shots with Abeer for the final scenes. During the war, Paq shot some new footage. After careful discussion, the co-directors decided not to include the new material in the film, not to alter its narrative.
After three years in the making, Flying Paper was completed at the end of last year. The filmmakers successfully raised $28,956 from 286 backers via Kickstarter for completion of the final cut. Additional funding was secured through small grants and tax-deductible donations.
Private screenings were held in the US last year, and a showing was organized in Seifa, last February. Flying Paper has so far been accepted for screening at the Athens International Film Festival in Ohio (12th-18th April) and atLondon Palestine Film Festival on the 7th of May.
Abeer invites everyone to watch Flying Paper: “We wanted to show the truth in a simple way, through a small story.’’
‘’I hope the film sends a humanizing message that children in Gaza are like all children in the world,” says Hill.
The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008. Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt. Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity. Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.
The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright. She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip has shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity. So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home. Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.
The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Follow Samah Sabawi on Twitter @gazaheart
Samah Sabawi’s professional bio can be found here
For more information on Samah Sabawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samah_Sabawi
By: Haidar Eid
Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immensely tragic events: the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976, both of which led to the galvanizing of internal and international resistance against the apartheid regime. Ultimately, these events would lead to the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of one of the most inhumane systems the world has ever seen.
Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to fulfill the word of (their) God.
Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba to the latest eight-day onslaught on Gaza.
In order to understand Gaza in 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns, and villages in 1948. In After the Last Sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last six decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948…”
The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience.”
At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with.
In 2008-9, Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 jets for 22 days, killing more than 1400 civilians. As if that was not enough, Israel decided to return to Gaza in 2012 and repeat the same crimes in eight days, this time killing more than 175 civilians and injuring 1399. These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.
Israel’s airstrikes, which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population, are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Even more, they are war crimes forbidden under international humanitarian law, specifically the Geneva Conventions.
Yet Israel consistently gets away with war crimes. The official, government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians.
Likewise, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that Hamas is “principally responsible” for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end. This is in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years, so much so that Israel even used calorie counting to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade.
The fact that Palestinians in Gaza are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms. If they show any resistance to this plan, they must be punished by turning the entire Strip into an open-air prison.
Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel’s blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Palestinians, about 70 percent of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the UN, and about 80 percent of its residents live in grinding poverty.
But don’t Obama and Hague know this?!
As Hamid Dabashi put it:
Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?
The only option for Palestinians is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. The South African internal campaign aimed to mobilize the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? It was left to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.
In South Africa’s long walk to freedom, there was no compromise on respect for basic human rights. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water.
Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s propaganda campaign where the aggressor is turned into the victim. Across the years, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization, and apartheid.
But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind.” The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription for liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.
Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making all Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanafani’s trunk in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act.
Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor withAl-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
Original article appeared here https://talesofacitybytheseadotcom.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php
Published on Nov 27, 2012 by TheRealNews