“The World Is With Us” is a project from the Palestine Film Foundation and Palestine Poster Project archive, in which the viewer re-visits the peak of the Palestinian revolution through films and poster art from 1960 through the 1980s. The exhibition and films are on at the Barbican Centre and RichMix art space until 14 June 2014.
The Fifth War (1980) – PLO film
Among the series of films scheduled in “The World is With Us” event, I saw “The Fifth War”, produced in 1980 by Palestinian Cinema Institution (PCI – the PLO’s film department) and co-directed by Samir Nimr (from Iraq) and Monica Maurer (from Germany); it documented the Litani Operation of 1978, an important battle between Israeli and PLO forces in southern Lebanon. The film includes actual footage captured during the operation, with interviews and political commentary by Vanessa Redgrave, a prominent actress and activist, who was at the time a member of the UK Workers Revolutionary Party.
In the overview of the film, it is deemed “… a quintessential work of militant cinema” for its time because “its combat scenes, like its political interviews, benefit from unrivalled access and proximity…” with an intensity evoked by the PCI’s choice of “camera-as-Kalashnikov logo”. –– from The World Is With Us website
“The Fifth War” also signals a turning point for the PLO’s expanded use of film in public relations outside of Palestine. Producing the films for an English-speaking audience and fronted by international celebrities such as Redgrave reflected a political leadership “increasingly keen to project a state-like image of its authority abroad.”
Films like these can seem very dated especially when their medium (of actual film) belies when they were produced; besides being in a context of historical interest, I also wondered a bit at the relevance to showing them 35 years after they were made, offered to an English audience. Then it occurs to me: though in a different form, with different players, the Palestinian revolution is still going on today. And maybe the little history lessons in these films will help readers like me understand a bit better where the Palestinians are coming from; and as it is said, human understanding is a key to enlightenment… attainment of which one can only hope would reduce the need for documentary films full of guns, tanks and missile launchers.
The World is With Us – poster exhibition
A few days later I was able to look at the exhibition of revolutionary-era posters set up in the lower gallery at RichMix in Shoreditch. I really liked this one by Muaid al-Rawi, glamourising the soldier as a rock star, who points his guitar-slash-gun towards the word “Fatah” a word which becomes an extension of his weapon, as we look up at him poised next to the phrase in bold red font which reads, “Revolution until victory”.
Then there’s this image that caught my attention, a drawing by Marc Rudin commemorating Martyr’s Day. The first thing one might see is an aggressive fist punching out as if to threaten the viewer… until you notice the would-be assailant is lying dead, gripping his impotent olive-branch slingshot, and we can see the boots of a convivial group of soldiers just out of frame.
More about the lower gallery at RichMix
The space, though not the best art gallery I’ve seen (due to the feeling of being in a cellar that it is, and the only natural light coming from the stairwell that thankfully has glass bannisters), I thought it perfectly suited to the contents of this particular exhibition. Very convincingly, the viewer is given the feeling of a meeting room from the 1960s, perhaps suggesting the ambiance of a PLO leadership about to come back from lunch break. There was one thing missing, though; I would’ve liked to watch the PLO films on the old TVs, to give it a real sense of being a participant, even for a few moments, in the revolution.
All in all, it was a thought-provoking look at 1960s graphic design trends blended with an aspect of conflict that can sometimes be overlooked, in that revolutions must also depend on PR almost as much as weapons.
More links and information
- Read about “The World Is With Us” screen programme at the Barbican Centre (Cinema 3), London – 16 to 18 May 2014
- Learn more about “The World is With Us” exhibition at RichMix, Lower Cafe – from 16 May to 14 June 2014
- Palestine Poster Projects archive – research and archive from Dan Walsh, Georgetown University, MD, USA – “The Palestine poster genre dates back to around 1900 and…unlike most of the political art genres of the twentieth century such as those of revolutionary Cuba and the former Soviet Union, which have either died off, been abandoned, or become mere artefacts, the Palestine poster genre continues to evolve.”
- “The Fifth War” at the Barbican (Cinema 3) – 18 May 2014 – “Produced by the Palestinian Cinema Institution, this is a quintessential work of militant film from the later years of the revolution.”
- Review: “When artists go to war: inside the PLO’s information department” by Nicholas Blincoe of the Guardian – 23 May 2014 – “…covers a tumultuous and violent time, but one that saw an extraordinary flowering of creativity.”
Event details: ‘The World is With Us’: Global Film and Poster art from the Palestinian Revolution, 1968-1980 is a series of cinema and gallery events taking place in London from 16 May to 14 June 2014.