Palestinian films have a strong reputation internationally, reflected by a consistent representation at several festivals worldwide. But Palestine has no platform for filmmakers. This is not merely a question of finances; there is a lack of infrastructure and knowledge as well.
Few areas get as much news coverage in the world press, but the lack of resources makes it difficult for the Palestinians to tell their own stories. Morten Hartz Kaplers, director of the film workshop in Aarhus, says: "The Palestinians especially need equipment for post-production at the moment, but they can offer amazing stories in return."
Consequently, Palestinian director Hanna Atallah has been inspired to initiate Filmlab: Palestine, based in Ramallah. Joined by two colleagues, he visited Denmark in January to learn more about film workshops, the development of a film culture and the foundation of a film industry.
Working On a Strategy
The people behind Filmlab: Palestine are also the organisers of the festival "Days of Cinema" in their homeland, and the festival became the launch pad for their workshop. Initially, they sought inspiration and knowledge in Denmark, and the project is still in an early phase.
After their visit to Denmark the strategic plan is almost outlined. This preliminary phase is to be followed by the decisive work of getting financial support to operate the workshop, including equipment, staff and teachers as well as establishing both regional and global partnerships – including Denmark.
"We're happy that CKU (Danish Centre for Culture and Development, ed.) gave us support so we can work on our strategy for the next three years," says Hanna Atallah.
"We also needed someone with professional expert knowledge who could tell us how to start a film workshop, and how to build a strong environment for film culture – both for the professional industry, the new talents, kids, the local community and for Palestine in general. You can have a mountain of ideas, but you need knowledge and know-how to make them operational."
Hanna Atallah and his group have acquired this knowledge through Charlotte Giese from the Danish Film Institute and Morten Hartz Kaplers, director of Aarhus Film Workshop. They have been on a research trip and organised seminars for the professional film industry, cultural workers and the Ministry of Culture on the West Bank.
Morten Hartz Kaplers says: "It's more important than ever to have an international network, and that process must be started while the talents are still part of the film workshops. You have to be able to build a network before you're a fully operating professional."
Charlotte Giese and Morten Hartz Kaplers have also organised the visiting programme for the Palestinians in Denmark. On the agenda were meetings with the National Film School of Denmark, International Media Support and CPH:DOX.
The two have contributed with strategic knowledge and tangible experiences in relation to film culture as well as talent development in a Danish and European context, but also relating to global partnership programmes in Uganda, Lebanon and Brazil, amongst others.
The film workshop in Aarhus has offered hands-on advice: what kind of equipment do you need to run an efficient workshop, how many films a year can you produce and with which budget, how much staff, etc.
Looking for a Permanent Solution
Hanna Atallah underlines the current lack of a forum in Palestine where filmmakers can meet and exchange ideas. He teaches local talents through workshops over a relatively short period of time, but he ends up losing a lot of gifted people. Consequently, there is a need for a more permanent solution, giving them the possibility to join forces as well as the chance for Palestinians to develop their professional knowledge, talents and stories in Palestine.
Furthermore, Atallah says, there is great interest from filmmakers abroad wanting to make films about Palestine, making it all the more essential to have a stronger foundation for cooperation.
Fatin Farhat is a researcher and cultural operator in the municipality of Ramallah who was worked for the establishment of such a foundation for many years.
She says that teaching film in Palestine is currently handled by the university where it is treated in the same way as other media. Ramallah, however, is one of the few municipalities prioritising cultural development, which is one of the key reasons why it has been decided to establish a space for the visual arts.
Jumana Khoury has a background in psychology, but for years she has been helping companies and organisations develop strategies and design various programmes. She now puts her knowledge to use for Filmlab: Palestine, but she underlines that the workshop must remain non-profit and non-commercial.
Jumana Khoury explains that they are working within four main targets:
"We want to create a space for filmmakers where they can meet and exchance ideas; give access to equipment and capacity building; create a bigger volume in Palestinian film production and therefore also contribute to strengthening the foundation for a professional industry; finally, we want to further establish film as an art form for the benefit of the public and the Palestinian society as a whole. This way, we're trying to create experiences for the Palestinian film industry and the public through international experience."
Ramallah and Aarhus are twin cities, just like Ramallah and cities like Paris and Trondheim, and the municipality is looking for more cooperation.
Agreement with Aarhus Film Workshop
A co-production agreement has now been signed between Aarhus Film Workshop and Filmlab: Palestine. Morten Hartz Kaplers is thrilled: "It's the first time Denmark makes such an agreement with a country in the Middle East. Our workshop will double its value – and it won't cost us anything."
The agreement, he says, means that Palestinians will be working on Danish co-productions, whilst Aarhus Film Workshop will let their talents co-produce with Palestinian filmmakers. In the course of 2015, a residency agreement will be added, meaning that the two municipalities will accommodate each other's talents.
Kaplers further says that he expects to see plenty of Danish documentarians in Palestine but underlines that the cooperation is made for all kinds of films. The director of the workshop in Aarhus is full of optimism: "We are strongly convinced that a lot of the films produced through this co-production agreement will get professional distribution."