Middle East Meets West
Fest Fights the War on Stereotypes
How much U.S. news coverage of the Middle East amounts to little more than propaganda? With the government looking to expand its "War on Terrorism" across new borders and violence flaring like rarely before in Israel, it's more crucial than ever to expose ourselves to differing viewpoints, yet it's more difficult than ever to get beyond threats and sound bites. As an adjunct to the Johns Hopkins Film Festival running this week, a concurrent Middle Eastern Film Festival (April 12-14 at both Hopkins' Homewood and medical campuses) screens several films of political and cultural import that afford a rare opportunity to see a much-discussed and -maligned region through its own eyes.
Two of the festival's films are brand-new documentaries that deal explicitly with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Gaza Strip (1 p.m. April 14, Gilman Hall 110, Homewood campus) examines the daily lives of a number of Palestinian families who oppose the Israeli military presence but are decidedly not terrorists. Their barren landscape turns chaotic unexpectedly, but frequently: We see Israeli troops shoot at stone-throwing children and bulldozers pulverize peaceful homes under the cover of night. Frontiers of Dreams and Fears (2 p.m. April 13, Mount Castle Auditorium, 725 N. Wolfe St.) documents the friendship of two Palestinian pen pals living in refugee camps--one in Beirut, the other in Bethlehem. The two finally meet--across barbed wire, due to the obvious security risk two teenaged girls pose to armed Israeli border guards.
Both films horrify in showing how every Palestinian is treated as a potential terrorist simply because some Palestinians are. They invite comparisons between Palestinians and Native Americans--unwanted, displaced peoples pushed into corners by an advancing population. And they invite viewers to reconsider a humanist path for both Palestinians and Israelis, a path that necessitates an immediate, critical re-examination of the Israeli government's goals and tactics in the occupied territories.
Of course, the Middle East is a complex region encompassing much more than Israel and Palestine, and so does this festival. For a less political cinematic experience, the fest offers The Broken Wings, a lyrical romance based on an autobiographical work by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. Also screening (but unfortunately unavailable for preview by press time) are several Iranian films, including Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, a dark comedy directed by Bahman Farmanara, tantalizingly described as Iran's Woody Allen. (Eric Allen Hatch)