It's difficult to know where to even begin when discussing the conflict between Palestine and Israel, a decades-old schism with passionate stances on both sides, each believing theirs to be the just one. Yet as the powers-that-be lock horns over figurative lines in the literal sand, there continue to be human beings trying to make their livings and raise their families smack-dab in the middle of the fight, with no control over the political maneuverings but every interest in their outcome.
Giving a voice to the Palestinian point of view is the inaugural Witness Palestine film series. Curated by an interfaith group of individuals from the Rochester area who traveled to the Middle East for a firsthand look, Witness Palestine aims to address this hot-button issue through a collection of narrative and documentary features that put faces to those directly affected by the conflict as well as those striving for peaceful change. All the screenings are at the Little, and each program will be followed by an interactive panel discussion. Tickets are $8 (except for "Budrus," which is free); visit witnesspalestinerochester.org for more information.
"We're not even aware of all of the influences of the military," Israeli conscientious objector Maya Wind says in "Occupation Has No Future," an effective documentary that explores Israel's militaristic culture through the eyes of those who have refused conscription, as well as those who have actually served in the West Bank but are now actively protesting the occupation. This film came about in the fall of 2009, when American antiwar activists traveled to Israel to learn more about the movement, opening an enlightening dialogue with refuseniks and former Israeli soldiers who have joined forces with Palestinians to embark upon a campaign of civil disobedience in hopes of bringing about peace. (Thursday, September 20, 6:45 p.m.)
Writer-director Annemarie Jacir's gorgeously shot "Salt Of This Sea" tackles the Arab-Israeli conflict through a romantic drama in which Soraya (Suheir Hammad), a Brooklyn-born woman with Palestinian roots, travels to Israel to get in touch with her history (and, hopefully, her grandfather's long-gone bank account). Soraya sparks with a waiter (Saleh Bakri, "The Band's Visit") who becomes her sidekick in both larceny and tourism, leading to a number of none-too-subtle scenes designed to illustrate Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people. Soraya's third-act tantrum at her ancestral seaside home threatens to derail the film, but it's not impossible to believe that she would have become so impassioned during her brief stay. (Sunday, September 23, 2 p.m.)
The powerful documentary "One Family in Gaza" personalizes the conflict's human toll through the story of Kamal and Wafaa Awajah, who suffered devastating loss during an Israeli siege in early 2009, but chooses to instead focus on a peaceful future for their remaining children rather than assign blame. Since 2008, Palestinians have been getting evicted from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in favor of Israeli settlers, and "Home Front" introduces us to four individuals of very different backgrounds, all fighting for Palestinian rights. We meet Terry, an American-born Israeli spurred to action in support of her protester kids, while young Mohammad, his Palestinian family now forced to share their home with Israelis, gets an eye-opening lesson in solidarity upon meeting a Jewish activist. (Thursday, September 27, 6:45 p.m.)
"We can accept this as God's will, as we always do, or we can consider this an injustice," says community organizer Ayed Morrar in the absorbing documentary "Budrus." The "this" Morrar is referring to involves the Israeli initiative to build a separation barrier that encroaches way past the Green Line into Palestinian territory... and right through the village of Budrus, cutting its residents off from their beautiful, beloved land. As Morrar and his fellow villagers, including his feisty 15-year-old daughter Iltezam, engage in nonviolent protest against the barrier, we also hear from the Israeli soldiers doing their jobs without questioning their government's tactics. (Sunday, September 30, 2 p.m.)
The gripping drama "Private," by Italian director Saverio Costanzo, unfolds over a few tense days in the life of a Palestinian family of seven whose home has been commandeered by Israeli soldiers. Mohammad Bakri ("Laila's Birthday") plays the patriarch, a chilly academic type who'd rather endure the discomfort of coexisting with the military personnel than relinquish his home to them, no matter what his terrified wife says. Not content to remain banished to the first floor, however, the kids are a little more bold than their parents, and the film gets much nail-biting mileage out of some very close calls that convey the horror of an occupation. (Thursday, October 4, 6:45 p.m.)