x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mohanad Yaqubi wins Eurimages money for found Palestinian footage project

Film negative thought lost since it was smuggled out of Beirut in the 1970s is to be incorporated into a "militant cinema" movie by the Palestinian director Mohanad Yaqubi.

Still frame from the film Revolution Reloaded. Courtesy Mohnad Yaqubi
Still frame from the film Revolution Reloaded. Courtesy Mohnad Yaqubi

A French-Palestinian co-production to be directed by the Kuwait-born Palestinian Mohanad Yaqubi has won the Eurimages Co-production Development Prize, part of the New Cinema Network at the International Rome Film Festival.

With the help of €30,000 (Dh150,400) in prize money, the film Off Frame aims to use footage shot by Palestinian filmmakers in the 1960s and 1970s to portray a history of militant cinema.

The 30,000 feet of film negative was smuggled out of Beirut in 1977 and disappeared. For years it was thought to have been lost until the Off Frame filmmakers found it in Rome last year. The footage and the story behind it will be in Yaqubi's feature film debut.

A jury including Eurimages' Peter Gustafsson and the producers Simon de Santiago from Spain and Rosanna Seregni of Italy said Off Frame had been chosen for the use of "hidden and forgotten filmic treasures from the past to highlight the importance of filmmaking as a revolutionary tool to inspire people to fight for change".

The project, backed by Monkey Bay Productions, has already received support from France's CNC - National Film Centre and the Dubai Film Connection.

The Palestine Film Unit (PFU) was created in the 1960s as an attempt to show a different side of the Palestinian struggle and to present the Palestinians as combatants, rather than simply refugees.

The unit's films drew inspiration from different global cinematic movements such as social realism, neo-realism, the French new wave and the New York underground. Support came from many leading filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean Genet, Chris Marker, Julio García Espinosa, Santiago Alvarez, Kôji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi.

A founder of Idioms Film, Yaqubi was born in 1981. He graduated from Birzeit University in 2004 with a mechanical engineering degree before heading to London's Goldsmiths College to study film, graduating in 2009. He has directed several short films, both fiction and documentary.

In Ramallah in 2006, he curated the photographic exhibition The Art of Waiting with Yazan Khalili, which was inspired by his time spent waiting for trains after he was awarded a bursary to study art in London by Charles Asprey and Kay Pallister.

"My interest in the film started when I met Mustafa Abu Ali, an old man who lived in Ramallah," he explains. "He was well-respected, but I did not know why. Later on I discovered that he was the last living member of the PFU and the founding father of the Palestinian Revolutionary Cinema. This incident led me to think how disconnected I was from my past as a Palestinian and a filmmaker."

He says that the film, now in production, will use "the aesthetics of the revolutionary cinema, such as jump cuts, photomontages, graphics, illustrations and sounds. Sound will be mainly constructed from audio interviews".

The project is being developed against the background of new life in Palestinian cinema, the first for a generation. Yaqubi is the latest of a number of Palestinian filmmakers making their presence felt on the international scene, using film to promote the Palestinian cause.

Perhaps the most successful recent Palestinian film is Paradise Now by Hany Abu-Assad. The film, about two young men recruited to take part in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, won several awards at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005 as well as Best Foreign Film at the Independent Spirit Awards, and was nominated for an Oscar. The director's new film Courier, starring Mickey Rourke, is due out soon.

Also with a new film in the works is the Salt of this Sea director Annemarie Jacir. When I Saw You is set in the late 1960s and centres on Tariq, a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee living in Jordan. The filmmaker is a founding member of the Palestinian Filmmakers' Collective.

The Palestinian-American Cherien Dabis won the International Federation of Film Critics award in Cannes in 2009 for her debut film, Amreeka. More recently, the director has turned up in front of camera acting in short films. She is working both sides of the camera on a project called May in Summer, about a woman who returns to Jordan from America to get married.

Another talent to watch out for is Susan Youssef, who has been drawing plaudits for her debut film Habibi Rasak Kharban, a wonderful updating of the forbidden-love story of Manju and Laila to present-day Gaza.

The film, which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, is scheduled to screen at the Dubai International Film Festival next month.