The 23-year-old behind Singapore's first Palestinian Film Festival talks about the important lens of childhood
Adela Foo — organiser of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2018 — talks to us about life in the West Bank, the lens of Palestinian childhoods and Ahed Tamimi
Last January, curious creatures and film buffs came together in a restored '70s cinema in Singapore to discover the history and development of Palestinian hip hop. The Projector was screening the documentary, Slingshot Hip Hop, which was part of Singapore's first Palestinian film festival. Organised by 23-year-old liberal arts student Adela Foo, the film was part of a diverse lineup that sought out to provide an alternative lens into Palestine.
A region often shrouded in coverage on violence and terror with people bound to take sides, talking about Palestine can prove touchy and difficult — so much so that Singapore's IMDA recently placed a ban to prevent the screening of a film that, according to the authority, "has the potential to cause disharmony amongst the different races and religions in Singapore". Directed by Jesse Roberts, Radiance Of Resistance tells the story of then nine-year-old Janna Ayyad and 14-year-old Ahed Tamimi, two girls who live under military occupation in Nabi Saleh, Palestine. Last March, it won Best Documentary at the Respect Human Rights Film Festival in Belfast. Tamimi is now 16, and recently made headlines after being charged with assaulting security forces.
"I have no control over what people do with the type of information they receive or choose to receive," said Foo, who first co-organised a Palestinian film festival at Bard College in New York. For this year's installment, the Middle Eastern studies and classics student handpicked a selection of films that showcases the lens of childhood. From When I Saw You — Palestine's entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards — to 3000 Nights, a film about a young Palestinian schoolteacher who gives birth to her son in an Israeli prison, the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival is a little escape from the mainstream media bias.
Foo herself has spent time in Palestine. She spent a month in Beit Sahour in Palestine's West Bank, studying Arabic through the Al-Quds Bard Arabic summer program at Abu Dis. She tells us more in our email interview.
How long have you intended on doing a Palestinian film festival in Singapore, and why do you think now's an appropriate time? Initially, when I was doing my research on Palestinian activism and awareness events in Singapore, I realised that the country did not have any. I decided that perhaps it was time to do something about the situation. Additionally, since I had been to Palestine that summer, I felt that it was even more urgent for me to establish a film or cultural event such as this one. Having studied the region and conflict for some time, and even having interacted with Palestinians, I thought it would be very hypocritical for me to orally voice my support while executing no concrete action.
What first drew you to this region? My first contact with the Middle East was when some clips of the torture occurring at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, was screened through several prominent news agencies. I was very young at the time, but the images have always stuck with me. I didn't understand why that was happening or why someone would do that to another person. I wanted to understand why everyone was saying that the entire region was rife with violence.
Do you remember the first Palestinian films you saw that broadened your mind or views about the region? One of the most striking films I saw was Elia Suleiman's The Time that Remains. The film was largely about a relationship between a mother and a son. There's a scene where the mother is much older and suffering from diabetes. She secretly eats ice-cream and is chided by their Filipino maid, who finds out that the mother's blood sugar has increased. The mother in this movie reminds me of my grandmother. My grandmother also had diabetes and whenever my aunts would test her blood sugar and realised that she was eating too many sweets, they would also scold her. It is these small moments in a film that not only humanise people to an audience, but also remind you of how similar these seemingly different cultures are.
What's been your one most cherished experience living in Palestine? My grandmother passed away when I was in Palestine. I was visiting a refugee camp in Bethlehem when I received the news. I came back to the family I was living with and cried. The next day, I went to the Chapel of Saint Catherine and cried even more. When I came home in the afternoon, the grandmother that I was living with told me, "At least she died of natural circumstances, all the other people I know in my life were killed."
What she said gave me a lot of perspective on grief and personal loss. What can I do now, that my ah ma is gone? I lost one grandmother but I gained another in Palestine. These film festivals are dedicated to the both of them.
How did you settle on this year's lineup? I found myself thinking a lot about children and the next generation. I personally feel that this is a very similar concern shared between both Palestinians and Singaporeans. We are always wondering and asking ourselves, "How do we raise our children in today's world?" and "How can we prepare them to be the best versions of themselves?"
This year, all the films are about children and the lives of children; about the events and things that have shaped them to become who they are. In a similar vein to 2017, I cannot emphasise the importance of understanding that children are not inherently violent individuals. In other words, there is not a child in the world that naturally aspires to do harm to another individual. We are all products of circumstances. And thus, through this year's curation, my ultimate goal is to dispel the misconception that certain groups of people and religions are inherently 'violent'. The lens of childhood, in my opinion, is thus necessary in demonstrating this point.
For people still interested in watching Radiance Of Resistance, how do you suggest they watch it? Unfortunately, it's a film only meant to circulate around film festivals. If you check out their Facebook page, you can find more information about upcoming screenings. Is there a character from this year's lineup of films whose story particularly moved you? Ahed Tamimi. Although Radiance Of Resistance cannot be screened in Singapore, the story of Ahed Tamimi is still occurring beyond the film.
Media attention of Palestine often focuses around violence and terror. What are your suggestions on consuming unbiased media responsibly? Ultimately, all news agencies have their own little biases. I simply encourage people to read widely, all types of news and to always question the validity of information given.