It’s been a turbulent year for Palestine, and the seventh annual D.C. Palestinian Film and Arts Festival aims to enlighten the District about the human side of politics through memory and trauma, the themes for this year’s festival.
Also new for this year is the inclusion of one of Palestine’s most honored and historic traditions: oral storytelling.
On Oct. 6, five to eight Palestinian interlocutors will take the Studio Theatre stage with nothing more than a microphone, their voice, and their tale.
“The stories will highlight the diversity of the Palestinian community in D.C., but also emphasize the importance of women in our culture and histories,” says Nadia Abuelezam, the producer of the event, called “Palestinians, Live!”
For those who know the curator of the festival, Michael Kamel, the chosen motif comes as no surprise. Kamel is a local filmmaker who specializes in psychologically tense shorts, often with characters that struggle with grief after a painful event.
“A lot of our stories are very specific and nuanced and they deal with Palestine, Kamel says. “They deal with being Palestinian. They deal with very specific topics that not everyone is going to directly relate to, but there’s a universality to the way people handle these memories and these traumas and how they’re passed down generationally.”
Abuelezam brought the idea of introducing a storytelling event to this year’s DCPFAF after hosting two “Palestinians, Live!” sessions at the Boston Palestinian Film Festival in 2015 and 2016. She reached out to the DCPFAF team to see if they would be interested in a live oral show at their festival.
“I almost think it’s more powerful than a visual medium because it allows the listener to get involved in the story,” says Abuelezam, who is also the creator and producer of the Boston-based Palestinians Podcast. “They’re responsible for creating the images in their own head of what they hear.”
The volunteer-run board of the DCPFAF was thrilled to hear from her. “Storytelling is so universal but at the same time it’s very specifically Palestinian,” says Nusayba Hammad, DCPFAF’s managing director. “ It’s such a huge part of our families and how we remember our culture, our heritage, and our history.”
Although Abuelezam is a bit cagey on what’s in store for the audience, she says that each storyteller will reach deep into their memories to present their version of what it means to be Palestinian.
Of course, “Palestinians, Live!” is only one event out of a full lineup spanning over three days, from Oct. 5 to 8. This year’s festival includes dance, art, panels and, naturally, films that aim to educate the various communities in the D.C. area with an understanding of who the Palestinian people are and the issues they face.
That’s the goal that the festival’s founders—Noura Erakat, Nadia Daar, and Huda Asfour—had in mind when they started screening movies by Palestinian directors at a Busboys and Poets in 2011 to “create a space where we can just exist as Palestinians,” Hammed says. “The whole point of the festival is to highlight Palestinian experiences and narratives and stories.”
Since then, the festival has grown exponentially; it’s kicking off this year’s fest with a free showcase at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage featuring a one-act play written and directed by Erakat and a musical performance by Asfour, along with storytelling by Abuelezam.
“People know the politics or at least the violent part of our history, and I think what’s been lost is the human side of that story,” Abuelezam says. “Palestinians tell that story a lot to their close circles and to their families, but I’m not sure that we have had a platform to tell those stories to a larger audience.”
The Palestinian Film and Arts Festival runs from Oct. 5-8 at various venues. More info here.