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Film Review: Digging for a Palestinian Image

Film Review: Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

"Many Palestinians feel they live on the margins of society. The photographer in the photo above lives in Lebanon, but he cannot own property." (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

The documentary, “Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image,” is a film director’s investigative search for the Palestinian cinema archive, lost in the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982. It is a cinematic revival of interest in the lost archive.

Director Azza el Hassan begins her search in Jaramana refugee camp, located in Damascus, Syria. Here Iranian filmmakers shot a war film about Palestine. Palestinian refugees in the camp participated in the film. What is left from the set is part of the neighborhood: burned tires, ash-coated, car remnants and rubble in small, buildings.

Hassan uses current-day filmmaking about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to introduce her audience to the missing, Palestinian cinema archive. After the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and neighboring Arab countries, Palestinian filmmakers and camera people began filming their history for documentation and political cinema.

Footage from the Israel Film Service shows Palestinians fleeing across a broken bridge over the Jordan River during the ’67 war. People carried their children and personal belongings across a collapsed bridge.

The broken bridge symbolizes the lost Palestinian archives, which are the anthological visual and audio records of Palestinian modern history. For 24 years the archives have been missing, so people do not have access to past events archived on film. Although people have access to verbal accounts and documents, political cinema and historical footage contained in the archives are records of Palestinian history.

What makes Palestinian film so unique is it is a visual testament to events and political expression that bears witness to the peoples’ struggle. Whether it is crossing a broken bridge or the building of a resistance movement, film footage of past events plays an integral role in the master narrative of these historical events. Why? No one can question it and no one can deny what they see and hear.

Although there is space for interpretative analysis, people watching film footage of Palestinians carrying their lives on their backs across water is a record of a past event with minimal room for interpretation. A still shot of the late cameraman Hani Jawharia clenching a girl’s arm sleeve with his teeth so she does not fall off his back is a detail that can only be captured visually.

The master narrative is the official, past record of events. Only historians can revise a master narrative. So the Palestinian film archive could serve as documentation that contributes to the Palestinian master narrative.

Film preserves history, documents events and serves as visual documentation or evidence. Its existence is a source for people to use as references so they can present the Palestinian narrative to the world public. Moreover, when reliable resources, such as film are available, it proves a challenge for people to alter a master narrative’s present perceptions and future interpretations. The archives can be used as an educational resource for future generations.

From a humanitarian angle, Hassan addresses these concepts. She interviews former, film unit members and family members to show the archive’s value to people who do not know about it. But she uses an entertaining approach filled with suspense and mystery. Clarinet and piano solos in the background add to the enjoyment of her search across Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.

How did the PLO Film Unit lose the archives?

In 1982 the PLO was expelled from Beirut. During the war, the film unit members decided the archive needed to be moved to a safer location. So they moved the archives from a second-floor apartment to a three-room basement near Al-Hamra Street. They turned on the air-conditioning and then fled for their lives. The archives were lost, stolen, burned, or buried in the war.

When she asked three, Palestinian women in the street about the significance of searching for the cinema archive now, they said what is happening to Palestinians now is important. “If you want drama go to the checkpoint. Go and watch men being tied up,” one woman says.

Her valid point speaks the truth: Palestinian suffering and impoverishment in 2006 is urgent and imperative. But the Palestinian cinema archive is important because it reseals the fragments of memories, experiences and emotions in the Palestinian collective consciousness through journalistic, artistic and political expression.

A former member of the PLO Film Unit, Khadija described the impact of their films: “I was amazed by how much people like watching our films. People who had seen themselves as helpless and powerless refugees could not watch the fighters. This gave them power and a sense of identity. It was as if we existed outside time and space. We were building a dream which made us fly.”

For thirteen years the PLO Film Unit recorded Palestinian modern history, and they created films from where they were standing. The Palestinian perspective did not often match portrayals in Western news. Moreover, the Palestinian film archive provided a medium of stability that expressed the political culture. The archive contained thousands of films stored in cans that filled three rooms with shelves on every wall and shelving units in the middle of the rooms. It was the cinematic anthology of the Palestinian struggle and resistance movement.

Palestinians live on the margins of society, so the archive is invaluable because it is the cinematic representation of the peoples’ past and present aspirations. They want the freedom of choice to return to their homeland. They want the ability to create their own country. They want their human rights.

Hassan’s exploration of the international community’s marginalization of Palestinians in neighboring countries shows through Monaf, the photographer of her friend’s wedding. In Lebanon, Palestinians are not allowed to own property, and they are banned from working in 70 professions. “We’re not only ghosts it’s as if we’re living in another century. We’re on the margins of society. We’re not living,” he says.

The camera films him packing away camera equipment in his photography studio. His image fades in and out, which illuminates his point.

From historical, intellectual and humanitarian angles, Hassan brings the past alive. When people gather to watch films they can be moved, motivated and empowered to change their lives. It can reinforce peoples’ beliefs and convictions – whether they agree or disagree. Film opens peoples’ minds to the doors of perception. This film’s direction, content matter, creative focus, and presentation achieve these cinematic objectives.

Hiba Jawharia, the daughter of one of the film unit’s cameraman, the late Hani Jawharia, who died in action after making major contributions to the archive, gave her opinion about Hassan’s film. She said:

“Even if you don’t find them (the archives), it’s good to look and to make your own film telling the world we’ve lost something we once had and we’d love to find it again. Then maybe someone you don’t meet during your search will see the film and tell us something about the archive.”

This film (in Arabic with English subtitles) will be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. State St. for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival.
- Friday, May 19 at 6 P.M. and Monday, May 22 at 8:15 P.M. For more information please visit

Characters in order of appearance – Hiba Jawharia – The Child
Adnan Emdianate – The Pessimist
Mustafa Abu Ali – The Believer
Khadija Habashna – The Believer
Omar Rashide – The Guardian
Mousa Maragha – The Optimist
Kais Al Zubaidi – The Thinker

Written and Directed by Azza el Hassan
Camera Pascale Granel
Camera Assistant Marc Lambert
Additional Camera Azza el Hassan
Sound Moncef Taleb
Hanna Abu She’deh
Ibrahim Shishani
Editor Gladys Joujou
Additional Editing Octavio Iturbe
Phillip Scheffner
Postproduction and Online Editor Mike Guergen, 4flash
Duration: 1:12
Contact e-mail:

Gene Siskel Film Center Schedule

Film Name Days and Times Showing

-Waiting Sat. May 6 at 7 P.M. and Wed. May 10 at 6 P.M

-Covering Perils: Sun. May 7 at 3 P.M.
Four Shorts on
Palestinian Themes

-Improvisation Sat. May 13 at 3:30 P.M. and Tues. May 16 at 6:30 P.M.
-Isochronism: Twenty-Four (films shown together on both days)
Hours in Jabba

-Avenge But One Sat. May 13 at 5 P.M. and Wed. May 17 at 8 P.M.
Of My Eyes

-All that Remained Mon. May 15 at 6:15 P.M. and Thurs. May 18 at 6:15
-Last Supper at Abu-Dis (films shown together on both days)

-Kings and Extras Fri. May 19 at 6 P.M. and Mon. May 22 at 8:15
-The Fourth Room (films shown together on both days)

-Since You’ve Been Gone Sat. May 20 at 3:15 P.M. and Tues. May 23 at 6 P.M.
-Yasmine’s Song (films shown together on both days)

-The Last Moon Sat. May 20 at 5 P.M. and Wed. May 24 at 6 P.M.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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