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Palestine in London: The London Palestine Film Festival

Next in our World in London blog challenge is Palestine. The 2012 London Palestine Film Festival runs from 20 April 20 to 3 May. Sheyma Buali celebrates the rise of this unique event on London’s cultural calendar. 

For 15 years, the London Palestine Film Festival (LPFF) has been engaging growing London audiences with quality film made in and about Palestine.

Amongst the first festivals of its kind in the world, today the LPFF and its curatorial umbrella, the Palestine Film Foundation, is the leading authority on Palestinian cinema, consistently bringing rare and hard-to-find films to London screens. The Festival showcases both the newest in Palestinian production, and exposes audiences to classics and rediscoveries from across the breadth of cinema history. 

As a relatively diverse and progressive city, London makes an inviting space for cross-cultural and political debate; it is this open characteristic that explains the growth of Festival audiences.

The LPFF has built strong partnerships with a wide variety of London-based arts initiatives; it has also secured precious statutory funding for its unique contribution to the city’s rich cultural calendar. The Festival exists today as a Palestine-focused project that is emphatically at home in the British capital. 

First held in 1998 with a VHS recorder in a classroom at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), today the LPFF takes place over a fortnight at four major venues across the city. The bulk of the programme is hosted at the Barbican Centre. But in keeping with its origins and the Foundation’s belief in the educational role of film-led debate, the LPFF maintains a number of screenings at University of London venues, offered on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, ensuring no-one is priced out of the Festival. 

The LPFF’s strengths lie in both the richness of the films on offer, and in the calibre of its guest speakers. Indeed, for the Palestinian and broader Arab communities in London, the LPFF’s value derives from establishing new spaces for cultural and intellectual exchanges, bringing London communities together with students, actors, academics, and cineastes alike. In recent years, the Festival has attracted leading directors Michel Khleifi, Elia Suleiman, Kamal Aljafari, and Eyal Sivan and renowned scholars and writers Ella Shohat, Ahdaf Soueif, and Ilan Pappe. With scores more preeminent speakers engaging with Festival audiences annually, the LPFF has emerged as a prized space for London audiences to discuss myriad questions related to Palestine in thought-provoking and fresh ways.

As the Festival has continued to expand beyond cinema screenings, an annual visual arts exhibition has been added to its highlights. Remarkably, this remains free to the public, hosted at the Barbican Centre. The 2012 exhibition provides a rare showcase of work by 15 video artists from Palestine (6-27 April).

With its annual fortnight packed with panel discussions, UK Premieres, art exhibitions, director talks, and even a new youth outreach programme, the LPFF is firmly on its way to becoming the leading cultural event related to Palestine in Europe. What’s more, this year promises an additional bonus in the form of three special “Pre-Festival Events” from late March – stay tuned online for details, tickets, and updates: http://www.palestinefilm.org/

Can you suggest any other places to get a taste of Palestinian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below