Armed guards protect a precious painting in Picasso In Palestine.
PICASSO IN PALESTINE (Rashid Masharawi). See listings. Rating: NNN
The long journey of one painting from the Netherlands to Palestine is at the centre of this entry at the Canadian Art Reel Artists film festival.
The hero of the piece is artist Khaled Hourani, artistic director of the International Art Academy Palestine, who dreams of bringing Picasso's 1943 painting Buste De Femme - housed in the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven - to Ramallah as the centrepiece of a two-day conference called Picasso Talks. His idea is to create a space for discourse on modern art and his country's relationship to it.
The documentary starts off strong, using the difficulties of transporting the painting to represent all the issues facing Palestinians. Security concerns, both at Israeli checkpoints - guards shoot up packages routinely - and inside the museum itself, make it hard to get the piece insured. It turns out the Ramallah museum has to build a separate room to house the canvas before insurers will participate, and a sequence delineating the many stops and starts the vehicle carrying it would have to make along the way highlights the travel struggles of Palestinians.
But then the film begins to lose its focus. In a too brief section, activists protesting the Israeli occupation declare the Picasso project trivial in the face of the challenges facing Palestinians. The filmmaker could have engaged them in a fascinating conversation.
And another in which a politically astute critic, unfortunately unnamed, comments on the appropriateness of the choice of painting - the face is an "occupied" face, the head "divided" - only hints at the actual Picasso Talks. More of the conference would have added to the film's ideas quotient.
But Picasso In Palestine is definitely a conversation starter. Screens tonight, Thursday (February 21) at 9 am. See Listings.
The Reel Artists Film Festival, spotlighting issues related to the visual arts scene, continues to February 24 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.