Leila Sansour to take film Open Bethlehem to America
Leila Sansour, the United Kingdom-based Palestinian director of Open Bethlehem, returned to the UAE last month to launch a new crowdfunding campaign to raise money to take the movie on a tour of cinemas in the United States.
Sansour’s film, the product of eight years of filming in Bethlehem, was originally intended to be a one-year project documenting her return to her native city to witness the construction of the so-called “defensive wall” around the historic town.
However, the film grew into a campaign to raise awareness about the situation in Bethlehem, using the town as a microcosm to explore the injustices taking place across the Palestine.
Sansour estimates that at least 15,000 people have seen her film in UK cinemas since its release in December last year. The film was also screened at the Royal Geographical Society in London and there are plans to show it at the British Parliament alongside a debate on Palestine.
Her next move is to take the film to the US, where movies criticising Israel’s activity in the occupied territories are historically less well-received than they are in Europe. “We understand the role the US can play in the future of Bethlehem and Palestine, and also the large degree of misunderstanding about the situation in Palestine there,” says Sansour. “Bethlehem is a perfect entry point to Palestine for the US population. They have so many bad connotations of Palestine, but Bethlehem is associated with all the ‘nice things’. “We want to speak on behalf of Bethlehem and tell them its story. People need to know about it. “Israel is constantly feeding PR and information to the world and we don’t do that. We need to do it more and do it more ambitiously and do it ourselves, not rely on some western ambassador. “The West keeps sending us these ghouls that they give a lot of money to, to teach us democracy via lectures. But they don’t want to actually save key centres like Bethlehem that offer democracy and multiculturalism, and it’s not easy to recreate these places when they’re lost. They’re being eroded and no one seems to want to do anything about it when they’re lost.”
Sansour concedes that her crowdfunding effort is a little different from the norm, which is why she felt the need to come in person to help launch it. “Normally if you fundraise for a film or small project, it’s self-explanatory,” she says. “But we need to explain this to people a little more as it’s a grand vision. The money will fund planning the US tour, going to the US to build partnerships, putting together an executive team – a coordinator, a project manager – to make sure we use our time wisely. “We also need to produce communication tools to help disseminate the message and make it as explosive as we can. “We’re inviting people to become citizens of Bethlehem – everyone has a stake in this. It’s a world heritage site and everyone should join us. To become a citizen we simply want people to spread the word.
“We’re going to have presentations to download and share on our website, apps people can use to promote the film and its message. We’re creating Christmas cards and an advent calendar that will show the good things about Bethlehem, as well as share facts and information.
“Films have influence and power. We’re not just showing this because it’s nice, but because social-issue films can spread the word and make a difference. And we can’t do that without people getting behind us.”