Toronto Palestine Film Festival Turns Five

Rehaana Manek

While the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gets most of the limelight each September, there are several less well-known contenders that deserve equal attention. Toronto is home to festivals that highlight human trajectories, and urban and political culture, such as Diaspora, the Canadian Black Film Festival, and HotDocs. But the film festival most Torontonians don’t know about, but that has generated an ever-growing buzz among film festival-goers, is the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF).

TPFF is a volunteer-run, non-profit film festival dedicated to showcasing Palestinian cinema from Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora, and to promoting Palestinian Arab culture in Toronto and Canada through cinema, music, and, of course, film.

TPFF was launched in 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba: when approximately 711,000 to 725,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled, or were expelled from their homes during the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In Arabic, Nakba means “catastrophe.”

TPFF is home to just some of the many human stories of war, love, movement, exodus, arrival, and longing that circulate and surround Palestinian tellings of their history, from the Nakba until now. That is what makes the festival so very relevant and so very unique.

TPFF has brought Toronto closer to Palestine, by showing such internationally renowned films as Paradise Now, which was world renowned for its humanizing look at the lives of two men just before they are going to commit a suicide bombing, or Amreeka which chronicles the lives of Palestinian-Americans coming to America, and Budrus which documents the conflict between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers over the town of Budrus. TPFF brought Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, author, political activist and spoken word artist from New York to the 2008 opening show, and Syrian-American hip-hop artist, architect, educator and activist Omar Offendum to perform at the 2011 launch party. This past spring, TPFF hosted world renown Oud master and composer Bassam Bishara at a community fundraiser in Mississauga, and, in July, this year’s outdoor screening showed Budrus to an audience of over two hundred people in Christie Pits park. TPFF brings Palestinian artists, directors, and actors to Toronto to discuss debate and enrich Canadian audiences with all that is Palestinian. The festival also hosts an Arab spotlight – last year they screened Stray Bullet – making global connections to apartheid, revolution, and social justice.

“TPFF is a volunteer organized festival that aims to bring thought-provoking films related to Palestine to Toronto audiences,” says Dania Majid, TPFF programmer and media coordinator. Majid says that this year’s festival is slated to be the most ambitious, with a week of award-winning films, Palestinian cuisine, and local art.

Lebanese Oud Master Marcel Khalife ends this year’s festival with a concert at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. The festival will open with the Canadian premier of The War Around Us directed by Abdallah Omeish. The film focuses on two Al Jazeera journalists during the 2008 and 2009 attacks on Gaza.

What makes TPFF a festival to pay attention to is the sheer volume of stories and ways of telling them coming out of Palestine and the Middle East. TPFF has found a strong and relevant space in the Toronto Film world, and not only keeps Palestine relevant but inspires audiences and filmmakers alike to share Palestinian cinema, art and culture at a time when Palestine should not be forgotten.