Program Director at Cinema Jenin
Max Budovitch: It’s been many months now since the cinema opened - what kinds of activities has the cinema undertook in the last 9 or so months?
Fakhri Hamad: OK, actually we have been showing Egyptian films, we are showing documentaries, we are organizing some events like plays, musicals, concerts. We have very little cooperation with some other institutions like the US consulate. They brought us some percussion and a band, it was a very nice night and we are planning now to make bigger program. We are involving more people in the thing so that we can reach more audience.
MB: Has the Jenin community been receptive to your work?
FH: not…to be honest we can’t evaluate if they accept us when they are coming to the cinema or not. Because for example when we have occasions like when we have holiday like ‘eid after Ramadan or even Ramadan itself, hundreds of people attended the cinema. But here the atmosphere of the cinema and the atmosphere of the culture of the cinema—so many people here in the town—you know it was closed for 20 years and before those 20 years after the cinema opened a lot of people avoided to go to the cinema because of these erotic and such films. In all the cinemas, at least even in Cinema Jenin, they were careful to show such films. But the cinemas in the whole West Bank were showing such films and it made the word “cinema,” like, very down and was not acceptable for the people. We are not trying to change the mentality of Jenin people in a few months. I think we need more time. But there are a lot of people who are open minded and who are coming. Surprising enough, we saw that there were families that are attending the events are more than the youth. We expected youth all the time but sometimes it was families more.
MB: Then how do you think this will change the Jenin community—this “opening up,” it seems?
FH: I think it just needs a little bit more time. We need more activities, we need to be open to the people and take everyone. I think step by step we can do something.
MB: Are there internationals who help you or work with you—individuals?
FH: Yes, uh, we have a few guys here, most from Germany who are technicians and are IT people. Designing. I think we have a lot of these people now.
MB: You mentioned that you don’t have a lot of cooperation from other institutions in Jenin, but who do you work with? Who are your partners?
FH: I do not mean about Jenin itself. In Jenin itself to be honest the only two active organizations in Jenin are Cinema Jenin and the Freedom Theatre. The other associations, it’s really hard to explain it. We are trying to trust them to do something to cooperate. We told them that. The Cinema is open for any event. So don’t hesitate, do something. We want them to move. We don’t want it to only be us and the Freedom Theatre who are working in the town. We can’t do things alone. And this actually is part of the changing. If we want to change, we have also to move, to act with these associations. In general also, we don’t have so much cooperation from, for example, the consulate, the embassies. I can say only the UK consulate came and organized an event. We have details about who is organizing with us a lot of events. I think we have to approach…maybe the media can help us to move the things with the consulates and other embassies to make something like “three days of film of Argentina or Brazil or even American’’ I think the media can help with this.
MB: What specific kinds of projects have you cooperated on with the Freedom Theatre, what have you done together?
FH: Usually we have workshops together. When we have a workshop organized by someone and we need technical support, we get it from the Freedom Theatre—they do that for us. Sometimes they were planning to this happened actually, only once. We showed things they made in the Freedom Theatre. It is in the plans that they show some plays in Cinema Jenin. But it didn’t happen for the last play because they needed a special theatre. So there was a kind of good connection with them. There was and is still there, to be honest, the idea of making an academy, the film school—A cooperation between Cinema Jenin and the Freedom Theatre. Each time we do not know now if we are going to go or no. What will happen?
MB: Are there influential individuals living in Jenin who have helped you, for instance business owners and such, or is most of the financial support coming from outside?
FH: In Jenin itself, you mean?
FH: Very little, to be honest. And now that’s actually why we decided to reform management board, which contains businessmen from the town—doctors, professors—people who have good relations and good connections to the others. So the businessmen themselves can be helpful. The others can reach other people. I think its time that the town itself can help the project Cinema Jenin in their town, Jenin. Not to depend on international support all the time. I think it’s time they do something.
MB: On a day to day basis, are people coming in and out of the theatre even when there’s not programming or is it a place were people only come to see movies and films?
FH: OK, they are coming but the numbers which are coming, like between 10-15. You know, especially with our ticket price, it’s not enough to cover the costs of the Cinema. This is the problem. Usually 10-15 people in the cinemas which are taking a real price of the ticket, I think it’s good, not bad at all. But for us, we don’t…because you know it’s a very cheap ticket and we need more people. Usually we need like 50 people at each screening to cover our costs. But I hope that this will come with the times.
MB: Salaam Fayyad has spoken of establishing the institutions of the state. If I remember correctly he was actually at your opening. Is the Cinema one of the institutions of the state?
FH: Could you repeat the question?
MB: [repeat question]
FH: Yes sure, sure. To be honest he still supports us. He supports us, if by that you mean financially. He is still interested. He is still following what we are doing there and I believe that the Cinema can be one big step in the…one big institution because it gives Jenin and Palestine in general a very good reputation in Europe, especially. The events that we are planning to make in the future—the international events I think it will help Jenin a lot.
MB: You mentioned that the Cinema reopened, is that correct, after 20 years—it was actually open before?
MB: It seems then, if I could draw a conclusion, that the arts scene in Jenin has really flourished in the last several years after being snuffed out, it seems, for several decades. Why is this so that, all of the sudden in the last several years, these institutions have flourished whereas they had not been around for a while?
FH: In general, most of them—Let me say actually, if I can remember, it was not only cinemas that were closed in 1987 [the beginning of the First Intifada]. Most of the sport clubs, everything that is related to fun, was closed at that time. And to be honest that 20 years of closing of all of these things, only the cinema has been closed for 20 years. The other clubs opened after 2 or 3 years, 4 years maximum. That means that we have to have a long time to bring back the culture of the cinema to the people.
MB: Would you say that your work is related at all to making peace with the Israelis?
FH: No, no, it’s not exactly like that. We are…we are willing to have peace, we are working to make peace, but look—it is a little bit sensitive issue. The people in Jenin consider that working with Israelis means normalization and accepting the occupation, blah blah blah. But we are working in different way. We are trying got raise awareness with Israelis about the people in Jenin—That they are not like what the Israeli media is telling about them all the time and the world around—that we are trying to explain to our youth and our community—not only the Jews and the Israelis are the occupation. We have a lot of people who are fighting with us against the occupation. I think in this way—that if the two sides understand that they can make the peace—The story of Ismail Khatib—This proves that this is much more than possible to live together and have a good relation together.
MB: My final question is whether you are planning any events or action to honor the memory of your colleague, Juliano
FH: Yes, I think it will be in the next week we are making an event for the memory of him. I’m sure we will have something, maybe annual. It will be an event. But next week I think we will show one of his films and we are making a debate in the cinema.
MB: Yes, it is really a tragedy. Do you think this is a blow to your work?
FH: To be honest we can’t even work since this happened. We closed the cinema in the mornings. And now we are just waiting for the investigations to say something. Hopefully they can touch on who made this action and explain to us the motivation of killing such person.
MB: Alright Fakhri, thank you for your time in talking to me. This was very interesting.
FH: Thank you very much.