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Kamal Aljafari

In the summer of 1982, the Israeli Army invaded Beirut and, while they were at it, looted the archives of the Palestine Research Centre. These archives contained numerous historical documents about Palestine, including an extensive collection of photographs and films. These images have since been re-named and re-indexed according to the vision of their new custodians, the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Set against these acts of dispossession and appropriation (one sequence shows the unperturbed violence of their authors), A Fidai Film proposes a counter-narrative of this loss, to restore the traces of Palestine’s pillaged history. Kamal Aljafari takes a fresh look at these images, here exclusively from film or television, and highlights the complexity of their status and their mode of existence as political objects. There is a twofold movement here, bringing these images back to life, sometimes as precious testimonies to the lives and struggles of the Palestinian people, but also rethinking the implicit viewpoint of those who produced them (the colonial gaze). Aljafari jumbles them up, sometimes mistreating them, to bring out the underlying ideology, the exoticising regard and the actions of dispossession, by deleting the comments of the victors and occupiers (from the British Mandate to the present day), adding, colouring, removing superimposed texts, modifying sounds, recombining and editing them. A gesture of anger and struggle in action and a restitution of a distorted or erased memory, A Fidai Film lays claim to a form of cinematographic sabotage, a resistance-fighter film as the title unequivocally indicates.

Nicolas Feodoroff

All your cinema is involved in Palestinian situation. For this new project, A Fidai Film – which is related to a previous one Paradiso, XXXI, 108 (2022), you use a Palestinian film and video archives (from the 20s to the 80s), stolen by the Israeli army in Beirut during the war in 1982. How did this project begin? How did you get access to these images?

For making A Fidai Film I did a long research of watching films, with the intention of creating a counter-archive – as we, Palestinians, were subjected to multiple looting and systematic destruction of our history, both the collective and the private since 1948, homes and institutions were looted and stolen. The same happened in 1982, during the Israeli occupation of Beirut, when the Palestinian Research Center was looted and then bombed. This last event is the premise of A Fidai Film. In the film, I use different footage, some made before 1948, some others are propaganda material made by Israelis, as well as fiction films. As for the looted material from Beirut, I didn’t have a direct access to this footage. I had to get in touch with different Israelis that kept these materials in their homes, and I could only rescue some of it. Finally, these Israeli researchers were the second looters of Palestinian archives for the second time, using it for making a career instead of giving it back to the owners. I don’t see a difference between them and the Israeli military.

The materials used are political material in itself, and here obviously more. In this counter-narrative project, how did you choose the footage, the clips?

I work in intuitive way, and the way the film looks now is a result of a long process, but the main motivation was really the sense of injustice, and cinema can play a role in movement of liberation – for that I take the freedom of reclaiming, of sabotaging, of narrating. It becomes finally the film.

One of the points with the archive is the way they are named, and the author’s comments. How did you work with this material?

After the looting of the archives, the looters wanted to use it to study the Palestinians, to evaluate the intelligence value of images. Some of the footage has captions made by the Israeli army for investigative purposes. It is a sickness of any settler colonial project to study the natives and the land, in order to better control them and finally exterminate them. I use everything as an evidence of this crime, and I sabotaged it in the film to create hope and offer an alternative in the restitution of these images.

In a previous project called Recollection (2015), you used fiction films shot in Palestine, and erased the actors in order to bring from the background to the foreground the places and the so-called extras, ie the Palestinians. Here your work with these images is, as you say a “form of cinematic sabotage” in order to make “the camera of the dispossessed”. Could you tell us more?

In Recollection I used Israeli fiction films which played an important role in the occupation project, in this case of the city of Jaffa, in which the Palestinians were twice uprooted, once in reality and second time in fiction. My role was to remove the actors and make the passers-by and the occupied city as the main subject matter of my film. This work, and the work I did in A Fidai Film, is what I call the camera of the dispossessed. It is a kind of manifesto of the cinema of liberation, and the political power of cinema to bring into existence what has been attempted to be erased.

The sound design is very important. How did it come up?

It was the same process for the images and the sounds: we collected different sounds and musical elements that wanted to give life back to archival footage, they would have died otherwise. Sound played a major role in making the footage present and readable again. We went step by step, back and forth, between image and sound editing to arrive the point that the sound belongs to the image in a poetic sense. We worked in a collaborative way with the sound artist and the mixer.

And what could you say about the epilogue you add, in two times, the footage and the transcript conversation?

The epilogue came about in a very natural way. We finished the editing of the film in August 2023. It was clear to me that the patterns of the collective punishment seen in the footage, as early as the British mandate in the 30s, will continue, setting fire in homes of Palestinians. Today this took another scale of a genocidal war. While as for the text, it is a phone conversation I had with a friend from Palestine, who started sees things, also having hallucinations, in his nightmarish reality.

Interviewed by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • Ciné + competition
20:4527 June 2024La Baleine
09:3028 June 2024Artplexe 1
18:3029 June 2024La Baleine

Technical sheet

Germany, Palestine, Qatar, Brazil, France / 2024 / Colour and B&W / 78'

Original version: English, Arabic, Hebrew
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Kamal Aljafari
Photography: Kamal Aljafari
Editing: Kamal Aljafari, Yannig Willmann
Music: Simon Fisher Turner
Sound: Attila Faravelli, Jochen Jezussek

Production: Kamal Aljafari (Kamal Aljafari Productions), Flavia Mazzarino (Kamal Aljafari Productions)
Contact: Flavia Mazzarino (Kamal Aljafari Productions)


Feature films
A Fidai Film (2024, 78′)
An Unusual Summer (2020, ’80)
Recollection (2015, ’70)
Port of memory (2010, ’62)
The roof (2006, ’61)

Short films
UNDR (2024, 15′)
Paradiso, XXXI, 108 (2023, 18′)
It’s a Long Way from Amphioxus (2019, 16′)
Balconies (2007, 7′)
Visit Iraq (2003, 26′)