50th Anniversary of the first film by the Palestine Film Unit
Prepared by Khadijeh Habashneh *
This year, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the first Palestinian film produced by the Palestine Film Unit (PFU), which was founded by three of the earliest cinema institute graduate filmmakers, and is considered the first specialized film unit to accompany a national liberation movement from its inception. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Mustafa Abu Ali, on July 30th, 2009, one of the founders of this unit, and who developed it into one of the landmarks of revolutionary cinema in the world.
There are many progressive filmmakers who produced films about peoples’ revolutions and national liberation movements, but there were no dedicated film teams that were established along side a national liberation movement, with the unit’s members living with the fighters through their battles, sharing their modest and austere living conditions.
The film team began its activities with an initiative from cinematographer Sulafa Jadallah, the first Arab woman cinematographer, a graduate of the Higher Institute of Cinema in Cairo. She began by producing photographs of martyred fighters using personal equipment at her home. Later she was joined by cinematographer Hani Jawhariyya and director Mustafa Abu Ali, both graduates of London film institutes. Using a borrowed camera, they began photographing and documenting the events and activities of the revolution and its battles in 1968. They produced their first film at the end of 1969.
The film unit, considered the first Palestinian film initiative, was able to develop into a cinema institution (The Palestinian Cinema Institute) that evolved to include several film teams. By the end of 1982, the institute had produced more than thirty films and news reels, that played a part in mobilizing the rank and file of the Palestinian and Arab people around the revolution. It also played its part in introducing the world to various aspects of the Palestinian issue and the tragedy that befell the Palestinian people in 1948.
We owe it to the Palestine Film Unit, and its courageous founding artists, to celebrate and honour their sacrifice and pioneering work.
Note: Books and other publications about the history of the PFU, and the life and work of Mustafa Abu Ali, are currently underway. Some of the PFU’s films will be available for screening on the occasion, as a result of the Old Palestinian Films Preservation project.
Coordinator of the Old Palestinian Films Preservation project.
Director, responsible of the archive and cinematheque / Palestinian Cinema Institute, 1974-1982.