By Amal Alayan
“It takes a village to make a film.” This acknowledgement by 24-year-old up-and-coming Palestinian filmmaker Muayad Alayan is frequently expressed at his film screenings. “Making a film in Palestine is like having a wedding: a director turns to close friends and family,” says Alayan.
“People were like, ‘If Muayad is making a movie, we’ll help him.’ It was as though Muayad needed help to fix his car … I felt this affinity - having come from a more guerrilla style of filmmaking - to show up there and be learning on the run as we were doing it, and teaching people along the way who had no experience making films. It was this great learning process both for me and for them - not to mention the whole cultural thing too, which was pretty darn amazing,” notes Christian Bruno, a San Francisco-based film instructor and cinematographer in an interview following the screening of Lesh Sabreen?
Lesh Sabreen? is a short film directed by Alayan and co-produced by his brother Rami and Christian Bruno. Set in Beit Safafa, which was, for its residents, a “divided Berlin” between 1948 and 1967 and is now the only Arab neighbourhood in West Jerusalem, Lesh Sabreen? tells the story of a young couple who navigates dreams through layers of economic hardship and social confinement only to confront an inescapable layer of political occupation. Lesh Sabreen? was premiered at Clermont Ferrand in early 2009 and has screened at over fifty international film festivals since then.
Alayan repeatedly includes in his filmmaking not only fellow “villagers” but also his students at Dar Al-Kalima as part of what Alayan describes as experiential learning and an organic bottom-up growing of a cinema in Palestine. Alayan teaches cinematography and lighting at Dar Al-Kalima, which is a daughter entity of Diyar, an umbrella cultural organisation based in Bethlehem. Dar Al-Kalima supports this teaching style and takes pride in pioneering such creation of learning environments.
Alayan exposes students at Dar Al-Kalima to the existential challenges of being a filmmaker: “Being an independent filmmaker is a challenge and a lonely journey. In Palestine, you have many more challenges: from the absence of funding sources, to scarcity of technically trained professionals, to lack of equipment and facilities and, last but not least, difficulty of distribution thereafter,” repeats Alayan. Yet he expresses particular appreciation for European cultural support that has, in his opinion, been the main financial and marketing enabler of Palestinian cinema and independent Arab cinema in general.
Alayan also works at another subsidiary of Diyar, namely Bethlehem Media Center (BMC), where he directs TV programmes, films, drama series, and educational videos. Alayan experiences openness to innovation at BMC. BMC is currently producing the first interactive TV series in Palestine, written by Rami Alayan, a Silicon Valley-based interactive designer, and directed by Muayad Alayan. In this show, the audience will decide on the flow of the story.
The two Alayan brothers are now jointly preparing for the production of their first children’s fantasy feature. This complements a portfolio of Jerusalem-themed films that Alayan has passionately produced thus far since his graduation documentary Exiles in Jerusalem that won the Kodak Award in San Francisco in 2005. Alayan will be launching the first Palestinian cinema sports competition in 2010.
Amal Alayan is a businesswoman and writer whose book in progress is on creative entrepreneurship and change in the Middle East. She is also co-producer of Alayan’s two upcoming initiatives: A children’s fantasy feature and a Palestinian cinema sports competition.
Youth Jury Award for Best International Short Film
Recipient of Award: Lesh Sabreen?
by Muayad Alayan, Palestine
Our choice for the Best International Short is Lesh Sabreen, a
Palestinian love story. Wonderful contradictions unravel side by side
throughout this film: political idealism and social realism, love in a
despondent world, and humour in the midst of tragedy. Both
characters faced obstacles in their lives which they needed to
overcome in order for their love to succeed, giving us an insight
into a culture that is so different from our own. It is for these reasons
that Lesh Sabreen stood apart for us as the best international short film.
TWIP January 2010