Toronto Palestine Film Festival

Palestinian paradoxes

TORONTO PALESTINE FILM FESTIVAL at TIFF Bell Lightbox and Jackman Hall, from Saturday (September 27) to October 3. See listings. Rating: NNNN

Whether it wanted the responsibility or not, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival is perpetually charged with pushing back against the popular conception that Palestinian cinema is composed entirely of grim dramas about life under Israeli occupation.

This year it feels like the TPFF might finally have cracked this thing. Certain titles in the festival’s program confront the paradox of an independent state in constant conflict with the nation that surrounds it – but do so in intriguing, unlikely ways.

Two films that premiered at TIFF 2013 use the endless crisis as background for deeper human stories. The opening-night film, Rashid Masharawi’s Palestine Stereo (Saturday, 7 pm), is a kitchen-sink dramedy in which two young men launch a mobile P.A. system business to raise funds to emigrate to Canada after their home is levelled by a missile. Rani Massalha’s Giraffada (Monday, 7 pm), meanwhile, is a drama about a young boy (Ahmed Bayatra) caring for a giraffe at his father’s zoo after her mate dies.

Israeli air strikes are the catalyst for both narratives, but the Israelis themselves are barely acknowledged. That conflict is abstracted to the point where its carnage might as well have been left in the wake of a natural disaster. In these movies, the human stories unfold without any reference to politics.

For more on this, check out Tim Schwab’s Cinema Palestine (Wednesday, 7 pm), a Canadian documentary about a number of prominent Palestinian filmmakers, including Palestine Stereo’s Masharawi and Hany Abu-Assad (whose Oscar-nominated Omar gets a special screening at CineStarz in Mississauga Sunday at 6 pm), that examines the state of the emerging art.

Schwab will be part of a post-screening panel discussion along with Giraffada co-star Mohamed Bakri and documentarian Mais Darwazah, whose film My Love Awaits Me By The Sea closes the festival October 3.

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