Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

It is time for festivals to endorse a BRAVE space over a SAFE one

IDFA / What is this obsession with creating a «safe space» for upcoming film festivals that is now circulating on social media? Who is scaring the world's institutions to speak up?

As I walked down the alley of the plane to take off from Norway to Amsterdam to participate in IDFA this year, I realised how unprepared I am to pitch. The genocide in Gaza has not allowed me to write two sentences in a row. But these are minor problems. I can probably work on my pitch on the plane, so I resist checking the news before take-off. That is when my friend Rana sent me the horrible statement IDFA had written the night before. As I re-read the statement in shock, I look at the airplane exits and wonder if I can still head of the plane and boycott the festival altogether.

Apparently, during the festival’s opening night, a few activists stood on stage in anger with a banner that read, «From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free» and «institutional silence is violence.» This was met with booing from some in the audience, and IDFA reacted by stating that they don’t endorse such hurtful slogans and that this particular one should no longer be used anywhere. My shock reading this statement turned into fury. I was now looking forward to being there in solidarity with the Palestine Film Institute, whom I actually was pitching with this year.

Shocking statement

Upon arrival, I am welcomed by Mohamad Jabaly and Mohanad Yaqubi, both filmmakers who so graciously run the Palestine Film Institute with only individual efforts and support from film activists. They are trying to make it cosy, introducing me to other filmmakers. I point out that I would like to meet the talented Palestinian director Basma Al Sharif who just withdrew her film from the festival, as well as from the jury that she was a member. Obviously, Basma had no time to meet anyone. Instead of showing her film, she used the time in the cinema to discuss with the audience and the festival’s Artistic Director, Orwa Nyrabia, how IDFA was silencing our voices with the shocking statement.

It seems the festival was the battleground I anticipated it to be. I will not detail the over 20 filmmakers who withdrew their films nor the many more who took different solidarity actions. I myself protested in different ways by withdrawing from the market, speaking against institutional violence at the open mic, but also using the pitch time allocated to me to talk about my project – which is precisely about my unstoppable imagined free Palestine, thereby giving context to the events unfolding during the festival. There is so much to say about what happened in IDFA, and so many people to quote. Every news outlet has written a piece on our reactions, from The Guardian to Screen Daily to Filmmaker Magazine to the most comprehensive one published on Mondoweiss.

It seems the festival was the battleground I anticipated it to be.

We the participants

What I want to reflect on is my personal experience of witnessing one of the most powerful actions of filmmaker solidarity I have ever seen. We, the festival participants, figured out that the «master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house» right away. If the master’s tool is to silence our voices, then ours is to speak even louder.

But wait, «who is the master?» one might ask. Should we look at who is on the IDFA board, investigate their history, and find out what is in it for them to panic and vilify a simple Palestinian slogan? What did IDFA expect us to write, asks filmmaker Mohammad Al Mughann, «From the Wall to the Wall, Palestine will be free»?

We ask ourselves, what’s in it for IDFA? What’s in it for them to sacrifice our years of trust in a festival so focused on decolonizing the documentary industry? Why are they willing to lose so much respect from the majority of filmmakers who stand with Palestine? What’s in it for them that no statement in solidarity has been published on their website when so many of us were waiting for a stance against complicity? Why is it that when they tried to re-write a statement apologizing to the filmmakers, they still couldn’t write the words Palestine or Gaza, as if those words are taboo? What is all that neo-liberal complicit jargon in all the statements they wrote? Who is scaring the world’s institutions to speak up? Are the ones that fund these festivals we thought were here to amplify our voices, even watching any documentaries about our lives under apartheid? Or do they just want to tokenise us and wear us like a badge of honour with their war economy money? Are our films and awards funded by the very thing we hope to dismantle? And then, what is this so-called «safe space» that festivals and institutions want us to participate in? Safe for whom? Safe for those who believe that Israel should exist over the dead bodies of everyone else who doesn’t comply with their apartheid regime?

PC: Dorota Lech

Our pain is not on sale this Christmas season

Again, safe for whom? Really, what is this obsession with creating a «safe space» for upcoming film festivals that is now circulating on social media in response to what happened in IDFA? What I really want as a Palestinian experiencing Nakba on speed is an honest space! A BRAVE space. A space bold enough to name that the occupier is Israel and the victims are Palestinians without tiptoeing around those words like the last IDFA statement did. If can’t write those words in a statement, then I don’t feel safe nor interested in swimming in your shallow safety. And really, no Palestinian feels like cooperating with anyone who will de-contextualise their 75 years of resistance so that others can feel safe. Forgive me, but it is really not the right time for us to swallow any pride right now, and our pain is not on sale this Christmas season.

In retrospect, IDFA was special this year. As Mohanad Yaqubi said to me after an open mic event that shook the buildings of IDFA, «This feels like the Free Palestine we all dream of.» From the river Jordan to the canals of Amsterdam, we manifested free speech and action with free-minded film comrades in what was not a safe space but an unapologetically brave one.

See also NorwegianFilmmakersForPalestine below:

Featured Image: Dorota Lech

Dalia AlKury
Dalia AlKury
Artistic research fellow PhD candidate at The Norwegian Film School, Oslo.

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