Bullets over Jerusalem Film Festival

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 16, 2014 18:09 IST

With rocket fire from Gaza relentlessly bombarding every major Israeli city, including Tel Aviv and the holy town of Jerusalem, one of the biggest casualties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the ongoing Jerusalem Film Festival.

At the start of the festival a few days ago, its director Noa Regev kicked off his speech by telling the gathering where the bomb shelters were located in the Jerusalem Cinematheque complex. The festival's outdoor screenings were postponed because of the war, but are now being held indoors because the conflict does not look like ending any time soon. On one occasion, a screening started just minutes after an air-raid warning went off, and the auditorium was completely empty -- all the guests were inside the shelters.

The festival, which has had a rough run for several years now, was hoping to make a comeback in 2014. But attendance this time is down by 20%.

As the festival runs for cover from bombs and bullets flying from Gaza, one is reminded of the first Cannes Film Festival which started on September 1 1939. It was to go on for 21 days, but could not, because Hitler's army marched into Poland that very day. And three days later, World War II began -- turning millions of lives upside down in a way no one could have imagined.

Describing the events of those days, one French journal put it thus: "The first Festival in 1939 was supposed to be held from September 1 to 20 in an auditorium at the Municipal Casino at Cannes. The first festival-goers arrived in August, taking part in sumptuous parties. Painter Jean-Gabriel Domergue produced the official poster for this Festival. But with the increasingly threatening clouds of war, they fled.

"On September 1, German troops invaded Poland. The Festival was postponed for 10 days, but the situation only worsened. War was declared on September 3 and general mobilisation was declared, making it impossible for the festival to go on. A single screening was organised -- privately -- of the American film, Quasimodo, by William Dieterle, for whose promotion a cardboard replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was built on the Cannes beach".

For the Jerusalem Film Festival, it has not been so bad. But with rocket fire from Gaza relentlessly bombarding every major Israeli city, including Tel Aviv and the holy town of Jerusalem, the Festival is being held under a cloud of fear.

In the midst of all this, humour has remained put. Some joked that if one were to go to the Sundance or Berlin Film Festival, there was always the fear of slipping on ice. Jerusalem was offering a different variety of danger!

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