Daniel Brumund is a German young man that recently spent a couple of months contributing to a splendid project: restoring the Cinema Jenin to bring it back to life and make it available to the local community. In this interesting article Daniel tells us a lot about the idea behind the project and the history of the cinema. What follows is an interview with Daniel, who is now back in his native Germany. Thanks a lot Daniel!
How did you get to know about Cinema Jenin and the possibility of volunteering in the project?
Through the Internet. I have trained myself in media and political science, and finished my studies in July. I wanted to spend a period of time on a project related to my studies and interests, and I came across the Cinema Jenin searching the Internet. I sent a mail, and I was told I could go there as a volunteer.
It was not my first time in the Middle East. I had participated in a student exchange programme with Jordanian and Lebanese students in 2007, and I had travelled through the region once again in 2009 (visiting Syria, Lebanon and Israel as well as Palestine).
This whole project started with a German man, right? Can you tell us how he organized the whole renovating operation?
Marcus Vetter, a German director, went to Jenin in 2007 to make a documentary about Ismael Khatib, whose son had been shot dead by Israeli soldiers who mistook his toy weapon for a real one, and who donated his son’s organs to six Israeli children. While shooting the documentary, Heart of Jenin, Marcus got to know about the cinema, which had been closed since the starting of the first Intifada, and founded an association to support the renovating works. Funding came mainly from the German government, but loads of other institutions and persons contributed in different ways, including for example Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, who came to visit Jenin and donated the entire audio system, worth more than 100,000 Euros.
In what did your work as a volunteer consist?
I arrived in Jenin two and a half weeks before the opening of the cinema, when the work was still focused on the construction that needed to be completed before the inauguration and the festival that was being organized for the occasion. There were about 40 international volunteers that worked a lot in that final phase. When the construction was completed I was assigned to the press department. I helped organize a press conference, keep track of the journalists that would attend the festival, and more generally keep contacts with the press. Then in August I took over the position as press officer of the project.
Tell us about the Festival…
It was organized to launch the activities of the renovated cinema. It lasted three days, from 5th to 7th August, and it included a lot of activities, like movies screening, speeches and musical performances. A lot was also organized in the space outside the cinema. There is a beautifully renovated garden and cafeteria behind the cinema, and the idea is to use it as a space for open-air screenings and other get-togethers. The documentary Heart of Jenin was screened as the opening film of the festival. Musicians included the Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers playing the oud, Salam Abu Amneh, a Palestinian woman singer, and other groups of Palestinian traditional music.
How was the turnout? Did lots of people participate?
Yes, and it was a mixed public, of course we had a hefty international presence, but also a lot of locals came.
What is or are the goals of the project?
The main goal is to re-establish the cinema that was lost, and this has been achieved, although there are still minor construction details that need to be fixed. The idea is then to use the cinema also as a community centre. The garden and the backspace of the cinema are ideal spaces to promote communitarian activities and encounters. In the garden there is the friendly “Allam’s Cafeteria” – a relaxing place to enjoy drinks or a meal. During Ramadan, for instance, we screened the Ramadan soap opera, and people would come and relax in the garden, smoking a narghilè, chatting. We are also in the process of establishing a film school through Cinema Jenin. There is actually another association that is very interesting in Jenin, it’s a theatre founded in the Jenin refugee camp by an Israeli woman, Arna Mer Khamis, and that does wonderful things with art and expression. Arna died some years ago, and her son is continuing the project. They have workshops, a theatre school, drama therapies and shows. The idea is to collaborate with them for the film school but also to organize acting workshops, video workshops, etc together.
Which kinds of movies are currently shown in the Cinema Jenin?
For the time being they are mostly Arabic popular films, mainly from Egypt, as well as popular children films. There is a need to re-establish a cinema culture which was lost over the last two decades. In the future we will concentrate more and more on the educational aspect of the cinema, screening for example more documentaries and generally proposing a wider variety of movies.
Are volunteers still needed in the project? How can one become a volunteer for the Cinema Jenin?
At the moment volunteers are most needed for technical things, in the areas of sound and videos, for instance. Of course there are still bits and pieces to be finished as far as working construction is concerned, but needs concentrate mainly in the technical area of the cinema. Anyone interested in helping can have a look at our website and then get in touch with the project coordinators by sending them an e-mail.
How was this experience for you, at a personal level?
It’s been amazing. There have been two different stages. When I arrived it was the rush to complete the works, so we concentrated on finishing, and then, when the cinema was ready, there was the overwhelming happiness of seeing it all happen, the joy of the achievement and for the possibility of giving the cinema back to people.
People in Jenin are wonderful. Living this experience made me understand that there are far too many opinions and prejudices against the Palestinian people, and that the vision that you acquire from outside is greatly shaped by the media, that sadly often depict things negatively when it comes to Palestine. In fact I discovered very normal, nice and amazingly welcoming people, who – like everyone else – simply wish to live a normal life.
What I try to do is not to lose objectivity on the whole situation. Those who go to the area are tempted to fall into one extreme or the other. I try to see both sides, even if it is hard when you witness the harsh conditions of people living in the West Bank.
In your article you state that some people in Jenin were not happy about the reopening of the cinema because they think that there are more urgent matters to face under the occupation. What do you think about it?
I believe that access to culture is a fundamental right of people. When the cinema was opened some said “culture has been brought back to Jenin”, but that’s wrong. What’s been brought back is the possibility of accessing culture again, of enjoying and, most importantly, of promoting it. People are now able to show Palestinian life and their traditions, to exchange experiences, to broaden their horizons. What’s very important is that through the opening of the cinema, Jenin is back on the map, it is no longer an isolated spot.
Interview by Claudiaexpat