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Cinema Jenin

Daniel Brumund, that Expatclic.com interviewed here, has been a volunteer in a beautiful project aimed at restoring the only existing cinema in the town of Jenin, and that has been closed when the first Intifada erupted. Daniel kindly allows us to publish this article, that he wrote for This week in Palestine, a weekly magazine that covers culture, events and much more in Palestine. You can read an interview to Daniel here. Thanks a lot Daniel, for the article, the beautiful pictures, and your important work in Jenin!

On 5th August 2010, something magnificent happened in Jenin: for the first time in 23 years, the once-famous Cinema Jenin entered a new chapter in his life as it opened its doors again to the public. Two years of intensive restoration works done by a committed group of local workers as well as local and international volunteers brought the cinema back to life in a new and shining look. “We have all worked together to build something – and finally our dream of the cinema has come true” says Maruc Vetter, German filmmaker and founder of project Cinema Jenin, during the three-day opening festival which was attendend by prominent figures such as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and widely covered by national and international media.

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The story of Cinema Jenin first began in the 1960s, when it was originally constructed and came to be one of the most popular cinemas in the region. With the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987, however, the cinema was forced to close and slowly decayed over the years. Two decades later, Marcus Vetter came to Jenin to make the documentary Heart of Jenin, which tells the story of Ismael Khatib, a Palestinian from Jenin Refugee Camp. In 2005, Ismael’s son Ahmed was shot dead by Israeli soldier who mistook his toy gun for a real one. Despite his grief, Ismael decided to donate his son’s organs to six Israeli children – Jewish and Muslim alike. The news of Ismael’s peaceful gesture and the acclaimed documentary moved audiences worldwide – except in Jenin itself, where the only venue to screen the film had closed over twenty years ago. Thus, the dream of reviving the old cinema was born.

As a documentary filmmaker, I go to a foreign country and people tell me their stories and open their hearts“, says Marcus Vetter. “I give them back a film but I don’t believe that a film alone has the power to change their circumstances in the long run. Rebuilding Cinema Jenin gives everyone involved the possibility to tell their own stories and write the next chapter in their lives“. Since the renovation works started in 2008, Cinema Jenin has grown to be more than just a place to show films. The long-term aim is to establish it as a sustainable enterprise which provides the region with a cultural and community centre and ensures job security for its local workers. The revenues from the ticket sales, advertisements shown on the new LED screen on the cinema roof, as well as the newly set-up dubbing and subtitling studio will help achieve this goal. Large stages inside as well as outside the cinema in a beautifully decorated garden area provide room for musical as well as theatre performances. A charming cafeteria inside the garden welcomes people to relax while they enjoy drinks or a meal.

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However, not everyone in Jenin is positively convinced of the possibilities the cinema offers. For some, there are other, more urgent needs. “How can a cinema help us against the occupation?” wonders a local worker from a shop a few corners down the road. “I cannot go there and truly enjoy myself when every day I’m living under these circumstances“. Even though the situation in Jenin has changed for the better in the last few years – a nightly curfew and some checkpoints have been lifted, the security situation has improved – people are still far from living a normal life. Travel restrictions, trade limitations as well as regular incursions by the Israeli army into the refugee camp keep reminding people that they are still living in a continuous state of emergency.

Fakhri Hamad, local manager of the cinema, knows about these concerns. “You know, the opening of Cinema Jenin showed the world that Palestine is a beautiful place to visit and that foreign visitors need not worry. It proved wrong the rumours that Jenin was an especially dangerous place filled with terrorists“, he points out. “In addition to that, Cinema Jenin will help reveal the image of the occupation by giving a voice to kids here and teaching them how to make films about their daily lives“. By developing a film school and offering artistic workshops, Cinema Jenin can also help open a window to the outside world and reintegrate Jenin into a broad regional and international cultural exchange.

As for Ismael Khati, he has opened a cultural centre for the children of the camp which offers various activites and educational courses as an alternative to their street life. Cinema Jenin, however, will always have a very special meaning to him. “The project is like a legacy of my dead son Ahmed. Everything has began with his story, and the cinema will always be connected to him“.

 

Daniel Brumund

For more information abuot Cinema Jenin and how to volunteer, please visit www.cinemajenin.org