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2020 Witness Palestine Film Festival explores Middle East conflict, goes virtual 

click to enlarge A scene from the documentary "Brooklyn, Inshallah," screening as part of this year's online edition of the Witness Palestine film series. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • A scene from the documentary "Brooklyn, Inshallah," screening as part of this year's online edition of the Witness Palestine film series.
Like many other arts organizations this year, the Witness Palestine Film Festival has been forced to be flexible with their event plans for 2020. Typically held at The Little Theatre (among a rotating selection of other venues), this year’s edition of the annual event will take place completely online, presenting four programs of films followed by virtual discussions throughout the month of October.

Organizers have made an effort to make the event as close to the in-person experience as is possible under the current circumstances. And the shift to virtual programming allows Witness Palestine to continue its mission of shining a spotlight on the conflict between Palestine and Israel through films, events, and discussions that draw attention to what’s first and foremost an issue about human rights.

Each of the films being shown will be available to stream for one week, during which time viewers can watch the films at their leisure, leading up to a scheduled online group discussion. All programs are free of charge, though registration is required to receive information about how to view each film and take part in discussions.

What follows is a preview of each film being screened by Witness Palestine this year.

The documentary “A People Without a Land” feels like a smart way for this year’s Witness Palestine series to begin, offering viewers a comprehensive overview of the seemingly endless strife between Israel and Palestine, seen through the eyes of the people who’ve lived through it. Director Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon provides both historical background and social context, pulling together interviews with a wide cross-section of citizens, scholars, and politicians. Together, these various viewpoints begin to shed some light on what kind of compromises and cooperation will be necessary if there’s any hope of one day finding peace. “A People Without a Land” will be streaming Oct. 4 through 13. An online discussion with Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is scheduled for Sunday Oct. 11, at 7 p.m.

A filmed performance of Pamela Nice’s stage play, “It’s What We Do” is based on recorded testimonies from former Israeli soldiers about their experiences interacting with the Palestinian people they’ve been ordered to police. Their eye-opening and sometimes horrifying stories illustrate the realities of both enforcing and living under an occupation. The film will be available to watch from Oct. 11 through 20. An online discussion with the production’s writer and director, Pamela Nice, will take place Sunday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

In “Seeing Through the Wall,” director Anne Macksoud documents an immersive 2016 trip organized by Rabbi Dov Taylor as he invites a group of American Jews to journey with him to Israel and witness life in occupied Palestine. Along the way each of the travelers are required to confront many of their own assumptions and prejudices. The film will be streaming Oct. 18 through 27, before an online discussion with Macksoud on Sunday, Oct. 25, 7 p.m.

Brooklyn, Inshallah” chronicles the 2017 campaign of Khader El-Yateem during his run for New York City Council in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Seeking to correct the drastic underepresentation of Arab and Muslim Americans in our country’s electoral system, El-Yateem works to mobilize his community’s considerable Arab-American community. And he faces an uphill battle: While there’s an estimated 40,000 in his district, only a few hundred are registered to vote. Many of these individuals have been kept away by the language barrier and fear hostility in our country’s contentious political climate. But with any luck, El-Yateem believes he can become the first Arab American to ever serve on the New York City Council.

The film will be available to stream Oct. 25 through Nov. 1. An online discussion with film producer and distribution strategist Jillian Karole, as well as the film’s director Ahmed Mansour, will take place on Sunday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m.


Adam Lubitow is CITY's film critic. Feedback on this review can be directed to CITY's music editor, Daniel Kushner, at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.
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