In 1935, Ibrahim Hassan Sirhan filmed a 20 minute-long movie that documents the visit of Prince Saud to Jerusalem and Jaffa. The Saudi Prince was escorted on this occasion by the Mufti of Palestine, Haj Amin al-Husseini. This event constitutes the starting point of Palestinian cinema, whose history is divided into four periods echoing the various stages of the national Palestinian struggle, the topic on which Palestinian cinematic creation has fed and focused. Since the periods tend to stretch and overlap, the years marking their beginning and end are merely suggestions and by no means indicate clear-cut boundaries. -PALESTINIAN CINEMA: Landscape, Trauma and Memory - INTRODUCTION, Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi
In the case of Palestine, the very existence is itself is tenuous. Pre-1948 cinema in the region was define by three various aspects: Euro-American foreign productions, Zionist propaganda film productions, and a colonial movie theater administration overseen by the British Empire. However, Palestinians focused more energies on the theater and stage drama, for obvious facts of finance, and only a few film makers and documentarians produced legitimately ethnically-produced cinema. Sirhan and Jamal al-Asphar produced some films a decade after the visit of the Prince, REALIZED DREAMS, and opened a production house called Studio Palestine in 1945. However, within three years the Nakba would fundamentally re-orient Palestinian existence, and the stage became a strong presence in the Palestinian community also because of anti-Western prejudices, seeing motion pictures as a colonial corruption akin to liquor or gambling.
From 1948-1967, Palestinians did not release any films. This epoch of silence is only able to be filled in by documentary and television footage from other sources featuring Palestinians, such as new reports and also Israeli film, which, importantly, was able to fill that gap with its own characterizations of the Palestinians. For example, no Palestinian filmed the meetings and interviews with historic figures, but the quote from Prime Minister Golda Meir, that there were no Palestinians, certainly impacted the international perception of Palestinians in a fashion worldwide notice of their films might have otherwise. It therefore becomes worthwhile to analyze both cinemas in tangent, with each film working inter-textually with each other. By understanding the nuances of these relationships, conclusions derived become unique.
1968-1982, the Third Period, began with the production SAY NO TO THE PEACEFUL SOLUTION, a recording of protests surrounding the proposal given by US Secretary of State William P. Rogers that disenfranchised the PLO. The story of the production and the film maker, a woman named Sulafa Jadallah Mirsal, became a template for all productions in this period. A photographer who studied in Cairo, she began by organizing the PLO Department of Photography and eventually was able to gain funding so to film protests around a heavy-handed 'peace gesture' that was more about Cold War posturing with the Russians. Throughout this period, the films would be politically-motivated and informed by the various ideological currents the film's sponsors trafficked in. Palestine, as a front of the Cold War, found much of its funding from the USSR, and so many works are infused with a Marxist-Leninist rhetoric that may seem stale at points, while at others seeming to perfectly illustrate the points raised. However, Mirsal's life work, an archive of her work and that of her fellow film makers, was lost some time ago, and so only fragments survive in other archives that might have copies of the films.
The end of the Cold War and onwards, beginning in 1980 and extending to the present, has seen a rise of independence in film makers. Michel Khleifi, for instance, has been rebutted for his optimism and appeals toward bi-nationalism. Furthermore, the emergence of the issue in the Western political consciousness has led to productions documenting the abuses of Israel from multiple countries, and this trans-national aspect adds another dimension to the ontology of not just the Palestinian cinema itself but the ontological implications of their portrayal. The conflict of portrayals between Palestinian and Israeli cinema further accents this point. Western film in general is filled with anti-Arabic codes and signs which promote hatred of the 'Oriental'. As such, this collision, particularly in American portrayals of the conflict, provides a wealth of contemplation and calls for further elucidation. However, almost all these productions have resulted from mobile technologies and the availability of foreign funding. The Diaspora itself has created a subset of films just as complex and any other Diaspora group's cinema. Understanding how Belgian funding impacts both the artists and the foreign investors is of particularly import when critiquing Khleifi, whose ex-pat status has impacted been unique from that experienced daily on the ground by his fellows.
The riddle of what Palestinian cinema is provides a unique way to attack the Gordian of this conversation.