An independent film festival has opened in Haifa, for the third year in a row, to showcase a diverse array of films from the region marred by conflict, violence, and displacement.
Haifa, a historically Palestinian city in Israel, has increasingly become a hub of culture and dissent against Israel's occupation.
"The Haifa Independent Film Festival, HIFF aspires to create a cultural crossing between Haifa and unreachable, prohibited parts of the Arab world, allowing a leap out of our inner and inter-cultural voids that have been prevalent for too long," the film festival's website notes.
Lina Mansour, one of the film festival's organizers, said during a press conference Thursday, according to 972 Magazine, that the festival's goal is "to develop the Palestinian film scene and to open doors to the Arab world. This year the festival has grown and become well known — directors from the Arab world have asked us to screen their films, instead of waiting for us to ask them."
"We are facing a colonial occupation regime that tries to strip us of our culture," another organizer, Rana Asli, added. "It is important that we have the choice of what culture we consume. And it is even more important that it comes from us — the people whose culture is being erased — with no governmental, political, or party-based constraints."
HIFF will also include films from other Arab countries. The festival which is against institutionalism is a voluntary independent venture which works on the support and cooperation of the local community.
"HIFF’s autonomy and self-reliance stems from the need for cultural activism that is free from government interference and censorship," the website noted.
"The Haifa Independent Film Festival is the first to host a local stage for these local talents: the prominent, the emerging, and the unacknowledged," the mission statement said, further adding, "Spanning over a week-long celebration in the heart of Haifa’s Alternative cultural space, HIFF is an exciting exchange of truly extraordinary cinema. Stretching over several Palestinian venues in Haifa, HIFF brings forth an exposé of works ranging from newly released films from Palestine and the Arab world to pictures from past decades."
Ayed Fadel, another organizer, spoke of the careful selection process of scrutinizing which films to select. A film by the Jerusalem Director Muayad Alayan, The 'Reports on Sarah and Saleem' was dropped from the screening list after the pro-Palestinian boycott movement, BDS movement raised an objection since the film had cast two Israeli actors in the movie.
"After a vote, we decided not to screen the film," said Fadel, one of the organizers, according to 972 Magazine. "It does not mean we automatically support the boycott movement on this issue. We respect both sides, and Muayad Alayan screened a film of his at the first festival."
"The festival has a clear Palestinian identity, which tries to follow the principles of the boycott," Fadel added.
"We have partners in Ramallah as well as Palestinian foundations that give us their support. When it comes to maintaining the festival, while continuing to build trust with the Arab world, these are the most important principles guiding us."
Ramzi Maqdassi, who is part of the Raed Andoni’s 'Ghost Hunting', which will be screened as part of the festival, said, "the occupation has kept our culture on pause for 70 years. We are slowly freeing ourselves."