Toronto Film Palestine Festival

Five films to watch at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival

Once again, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival will usher in autumn with the best cinema, music, and culture that the Palestinian and Arab World has to offer. Founded in 2008 to commemorate al-Nakba, the festival will this year take place between September 30 and October 7 in a variety of locations, but mainly at Jackman Hall in the AGO.

With nearly every screening being a co-presentation with another local film festival (Images, CinĂŠfranco, Reel Asian, and more), the festival has become very much a community-based celebration of the cinema. There are 24 films in the expanded festival, which for some of us still in TIFF recovery-mode may be a bit too much to handle, so here are five that look especially promising.

POMEGRANATES AND MYRRH (September 30, 7pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox)

This feature-length debut from Najwa Najjar is set in present day Ramallah. A dancer named Kamar is in throes when her husband Zaid is taken prisoner for resisting the confiscation of his family's land. "Life for Kamar becomes increasingly complicated as Zaid's sentence is extended and the legal case against the land confiscation faces numerous obstacles placing the annual harvest and the family's livelihood in danger." This is an intensely political film in which the politics are able to remain in the background, influencing the subject without being the subject. Here's hoping this potboiler is as colourful and aromatic as its title.

ZAHARA (October 3, 9pm at Jackman Hall AGO)

One of Israel's most well-known actors, Mohammed Bakri, goes behind the camera and makes a documentary about his 78 year-old aunt Zahara. Tracking her life from even before the war in 1948, the film "takes us through the country's turbulent history, as seen through the eponymous heroine's eyes and the perspectives of those around her. As Zahara grows, we experience the violent establishment of Israel, subsequent life under martial law (1948-1966), and the radical transformation of Palestinian society from a majority to a disenfranchised minority in their own homeland." Premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2009.

ENEMY ALIEN (October 4, 9pm at Jackman Hall AGO)

In law, an 'enemy alien' is a citizen of a country that's in conflict with the land in which he/she is located. Co-presented with Toronto Reel Asian, this is the Canadian premiere of a first-person documentary look at a fight against an unjust imprisonment of Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti,who was detained in a rally of Muslim immigrants after 9/11. "This intimate, revelatory film takes on profound personal and historical implications as Farouk, his son and the filmmaker each pay a personal price for resisting wartime policies."

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION (October 5, 9pm at Jackman Hall AGO)

After making a splash in the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam about a year and a half ago, Shane O'Sullivan's third feature-length film (and his second stright documentary after 2007's RFK Must Die: The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy) is a riveting account of Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu's lives. These leaders of Germany's Baader-Meinhof Group were two of the most feared terrorists in the world in the Seventies, and the film sounds suitably contentious. "Worth it alone for the gripping 70's archive material," according to Time Out London. Co-presented by Images Festival.

(NO) LAUGHING MATTER (October 6, 7pm at Jackman Hall AGO)

Some welcome humour to counterbalance all of the (justifiably) heavy films that take up the bulk of the line up. Here we have a filmmaker, Vanessa Rousselot, who is on a singular journey to exhume the West Bank's funny bones. "Little by little she uncovers a vibrant culture of humour that defies conventional wisdom. From inane stories mocking the residents of Hebron - the classic butts of Palestinian jokes - to self-deprecating, political quips and bitter-sweet anecdotes about the absurdity of everyday life, her journey plunges her into a little known universe, one in which a glimmer of hope and humanity endure in the shadow of conflict." This is a co-presentation with CinĂŠfranco.

The Toronto Palestine Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 7 at various locations. Individual tickets are $10 ($7 for students and seniors) and can be purchased online, by phone (416-599-TIFF), or at the venue before the screening. Full festival passes are also available for $75.

Still from Pomegranates and Myrrh

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