For the straight third year, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) packed the Bloor Cinema with a sold-out opening night. More than 800 film enthusiasts gathered in the landmark theatre to see the internationally acclaimed feature The Time That Remains by eminent Palestinian director Elia Suleiman. The Cannes favourite, inspired by the director's own history, tells the story of a family starting in 1948 until present day. Rafeef Ziadah, festival coordinator, welcomed the crowd by thanking them for their tremendous support. The screening and the brunch were sold-out before opening night. She reminded the audience that "last year's festival was dedicated to Gaza, and this year's festival is dedicated to the activists on the Gaza flotilla." After the film, guests celebrated at a gala reception at Beit Zatoun. Dania Majid, programmer, acknowledged the dedication and incredible work of the volunteer-based TPFF organizing committee. "TPFF continues to solidify its role as a cultural institution by bringing the best of Palestinian film and culture to Toronto, stated Majid."
On Day 2 of the festival, food and film lovers enjoyed the sold-out SAHTAIN! Traditional Palestinian Breakfast, where participants watched a food-themed short comedy (Pickled) as they ate a traditional Palestinian brunch prepared by Chef Isam Kaisi, of 93 Harbord.
In the afternoon, TPFF hosted a Panel - The State of Contemporary Palestinian Cinema with Palestinian cinematic great Michel Khleifi (Zindeeq) and Palestinian-Canadian producer Christina Piovesan (Amreeka). The audience listed intently as Piovesan and Khleifi talked about their experiences making Palestinian films. Piovesan discuss the process of making Amreeka, and securing a director, cast, crew and funding for the film. In response to questions on whether it was dangerous to film in the West Bank, Piovesan stated the toughest place to film was Winnipeg. In Ramallah she discovered vibrant, young, engaged crew."It was important to bring the project home where it belonged," stated Piovesan. She explained Amreeka's popularity was due to the accessibility of the story. "People related to characters who wanted a second chance in life. We used humour to communicate the longing for home. That's how we [Palestinians] deal with loss."
Khleifi is considered to be a founder of contemporary Palestinian cinema after directing the first Palestinian film shot in Palestine. He felt Palestinians need to talk about their own history and the trauma [Nakba]. He described his early experience at Cannes when he was told there was no such country as Palestine after he submitted his film under Palestine. Although he compromised and submitted the film as Palestine, Belgium, Khleifi revelled that its submission meant that "we have started Palestinian cinema." To foster the growth of Palestinian cinema Khleifi said he always included young Palestinians on his film crew so they have an opportunity to develop their skills. He stated about future Palestinian filmmaking: "We spend a lot of time living in the past. We must now live in the future of Palestine. Palestine is a symbol of our emancipation." He ended his talk by saying "the miracle of Palestine is we have a cinema without a country." The sold-out Canadian Premiere of Khleifi's Zindeeq, Best Film winner at the Dubai International Film Festival (2009) happens October 5 at 7:00pm at the AGO.
The festival continues through the week with 8 Canadian premieres and 4 North American premieres. Day 3 at the AGO will present two documentaries. Inshallah Beijing! focuses on the Palestinian Olympic team. The dedicated athletes train in basic facilities, without proper equipment and surmount many personal and professional obstacles to compete in the Beijing Olympics. Once they arrive in Beijing, they must contend with a new set of challenges associated with being so far from home. As the Poet Said is a tribute to the late Palestinian poet and national treasure Mahmoud Darwich. Different poets read the profound words of Darwich's poetry in the different places important to him in his life. His words live on and continue to inspire.
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