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Film Benefit for Arab Festival
by Reynard Seifert
Salt of the Sea starts simply, but nothing in Palestine is simple, and she eventually robs a bank. photo courtesy AFF/b>
The Cannes-selected Salt Of This Sea will have a special screening on May 7 at the California Theatre in Berkeley to benefit the 13th annual Arab Film Festival (AFF). Directed by a Palestinian woman, Annemarie Jacir, Salt Of This Sea is the story of a working-class Palestinian-American who returns to Palestine and eventually holds up an Israeli bank, asking for precisely the amount of her grandfather's account (plus interest).
"Palestinian filmmaking has been reinvigorated in recent years," said festival director Michel Shehadeh. A friendly balding and bespectacled gentleman of Palestinian parents, he was one of the "Los Angeles Eight" suspected by the US Government of abetting terrorists. Now he devotes himself to combating stereotypes of Arabs in the media and increasing understanding through art. The festival is dedicated to providing insightful perspectives on the full spectrum of the Arab experience - art, emotions, and personal life as well as history and politics - and they are doing a great job.
According to Shehadeh, "Palestinian immigrants have gained confidence in finding an audience for their films due to the overwhelming success of Paradise Now." Directed in 2005 by Hany Abu-Assad, a Dutch-Palestinian, and co-produced by an Israeli, it artfully and thrillingly illustrates all sides of the suicide-bombing question - people in favor, against, pondering, changing their minds. Today, Palestinians are making more films both inside and outside their home country.
The thirteenth annual AFF, which plays in San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles, will see an increase in narrative features. More and more Arabs throughout the world are gaining access to the education, funding, and equipment necessary to produce artful narratives reflecting the Arab experience, and festival organizers feel that American's film experience of Palestinian life has perhaps been over-heavy on the documentary side, providing a lot of brute reality and hard facts but less of the insight and artistry that good fiction can achieve. AFF opening night will be October 15 at the Castro in San Francisco, and the whole festival will screen more than forty films.
Unlike most film festivals, the AFF doesn't charge entry fees - hence the benefit. "We don't want people in the Arab world to be discouraged from submitting because of an entry fee," said Shehadeh. "Forty or fifty dollars might not sound like much in this country, but it can be a lot for those in the Middle East." The lack of entry fees necessitates raising money for operational costs and the substantial cash awards they provide winning films. The 2009 Noor Awards ("noor" means "light" in Arabic, and is also a popular woman's name) will give $2,000 to each of the winning narrative and documentary features and $500 to the narrative and documentary shorts.
Thankfully, the Arab Film Festival is not in financial trouble, unlike so many festivals across the nation. Most of the money for the festival comes from government grants and corporate sponsorship, but the festival accepts donations, which are tax deductible. Donors receive VIP passes, opening night tickets, and recognition in the festival program. If you'd like to donate, you can find more information at
or simply catch the award-winning Salt Of This Sea on Thursday, May 7 in Berkeley.
Posted on Sep 21, 2010 - 05:19 PM