A new training project, Greenhouse, which aims to bring documentary filmmakers in the Middle East together to form a common regional film community has so far done the opposite: widened the gaps and sparked a conflict rather than dialogue
The EU has demonstrated its readiness to throw lots of money after doc film cooperation in the region, but is this being done the right way?
The Middle East is a region of conflicts and politically things are not getting easier. On a personal level, filmmakers have connections and are working together across conflicts. Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers have been cooperating for years on film projects and various grass-root events. But a new documentary training programme for the region called Greenhouse – initiated by the state-funded New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and Television (NFCT) and supported by EU’s EuroMed Audiovisual II – has run into problems and is currently suspended even before take-off.
Greenhouse was launched at the Berlin festival as a new three-part training initiative for young documentary filmmakers from the Mediterranean region, especially for feature-length doc projects aimed at cinema release. It aims to create a Mediterranean Film Centre located in Tel Aviv and is supported by EU’s EuroMed Audiovisual II programme in the amount of EUR 1.5 million over a three-year period. The European-Mediterranean cooperation was set up by the EU in 1995 for the purpose of encouraging people from various countries in the region to work together despite the many obstacles they face. The non-EU countries in the cooperation are the so-called MEDA countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta.
The original Greenhouse partners were NFCT, Ramallah Film Institute (RFI), Spanish Parallel 40, the Turkish documentary filmmakers association and IDF from the Czech Republic. The Spanish and Turkish partners have withdrawn their participation, however, after a large segment of the Palestinian film community sent a letter of protest to the EuroMed Audiovisual II office, a protest which was also supported by a long list of Israeli filmmakers. The partners also withdrew because they felt they hadn’t been properly informed about their role in the project and about the objections to it.
Ramallah Film Institute
The Palestinian protest letter (signed by prominent filmmakers as Hany Abu Assad, Rashid Masharawi, Mai Masri and Elia Suleiman) expresses two major concerns. The first has to do with the partner (RFI) designated to represent Palestine. The RFI, managed by Adam Zuabi, is a rather new body, and was in charge of the Ramallah Film Festival in 2004, which received financial support from various European funds and TV channels. Palestinian filmmakers are concerned about the institute’s ability to manage the project properly as Zuabi (according to the claim) has not presented any proper financial report of the festival as requested. The filmmakers also document that several of the persons Zuabi lists as board members of the institute never accepted to be on the board or have withdrawn from the board. In this light, the filmmakers believe it is difficult to trust the institute. The EuroMed Audiovisual II office is currently investigating the charges.
Israeli State Institution
The other issue raised is that the administrator of Greenhouse (the NFCT), is an official Israeli state institution and thus represents the power which occupies Palestinian territory. This creates an unequal relationship as the Palestinians point out in their letter to EuroMed: “We would like to note that partnering or collaborating with Israeli-government sponsored institutions is a very sensitive issue here in Palestine –assuming an equal relationship between two such partners when in fact one is supported by a government that occupies the other. A great many promising projects have failed to achieve their goals because they failed to take into consideration the complexities involved and thus alienated the majority of the communities targeted. We wish not to see the EuroMed project end as a failure. On the contrary, we believe that such an opportunity for funding can play a major role in nurturing documentary film practices in Palestine – but money alone cannot achieve this. In order for this to happen we need the community of filmmakers to believe in the project and to trust in it enough to participate in it.”
And this viewpoint is supported by the Israeli filmmakers: “It is difficult to imagine the Israeli partner organization being capable of taking an unprejudiced position vis-à-vis Palestinian film proposals that may be (and ought to be) very critical of the State of Israel and the Israeli occupation.”
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