Pushing the Boundaries of Documentary in Post-Nationalist Palestinian Filmaking

By Nadia G. Yaqub
Submitted to Session P4876 (Fraught Docs: Questioning Categories and Exploring Infrastructural Challenges of Documentary Filmmaking from the Arab World, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
LCD Projector without Audio;
Pushing the Boundaries of Documentary in Post-Nationalist Palestinian Filmaking

In O Persecuted (2014) video artist Basma Alsharif offers a contemporary response to Our Small Houses, the film Qasim Hawal made in 1974 made for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Alsharif distorts and covers up the image and sound of the original film, allowing just parts and flashes of Hawal’s images and text to emerge from a covering of black paint and distorted sound. The work emphasizes the distance separating the idealistic, Marxist-Leninist imaginings for the future of Palestine as a workers’ utopia that is expressed in this 1970s proto-film essay from the objectification of women’s bodies that underlies a hedonistic spring break culture on Tel Aviv’s beaches of the 2010s. It also comments on the process of film restoration as one of imperfect and incomplete translation, thereby confirming the eternal pastness of the past. Alsharif’s work has been described as “Post-Palestinian” in that it questions the nationalist frame of a Palestinian politics without compromising on Palestinian political claims. It also might be termed post-documentary in the way that foregrounds the mutability of a documentary work, how its meaning changes when viewed in different historical circumstances. This paper analyzes recent works by Alsharif and Kamal Aljafari, another filmmaker who pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking (in his case, by manipulating old Israel and American films to uncover a Palestinian presence that was consciously erased) in ways that engage critically with historical distance and nationalist frameworks. Both artists engage with the traces of the real in film footage to creatively address the current Palestinian condition.