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Palestine Film Festival reviews by CIMC

Films reviewed: Slingshot Hip Hop, USA vs. Al-Arian

More reviews to come

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Palestinain hip hop artist Abeer

Slingshot Hip Hop

"Rap gives us oxygen"

Dir:Jackie Salloum
80 min.

Hip hop has always had a school that attempts to voice frustrations about the African-American condition in the United States. That spirit of resistance shows from the early socially conscious rhymes of Grandmaster Flash and afrocentrism of Schooly D to current exemplars like Mr. Lif and Boots Riley. Arguably nowhere in hip hop has the voice of protest been taken up so marvelously as with Public Enemy front man Chuck D; and that's where Jackie Salloum's new documentary Slingshot Hip Hop begins. Palestinian hip hop artists DAM are in the studio with Chuck D, on a brief US visit (their main international audiences are in Europe) for his radio program where they lay out the Palestinian scene for Mistachuck while competently avoiding sounding like the star-struck fans they are. DAM hails from Lydd (Lod), a mixed city in central Israel that is one of that nation's poorest, with most of the Palestinian citizens living in a walled ghetto with minimal infrastructure and few opportunities for economic prosperity, a socioeconomic scene that would ring familiar to many of DAM's American hip hop heroes.

Salloum's documentary combines footage of protests, ghetto life and military occupation with interviews with the members of DAM, PR (from Gaza), Abeer (also Lydd) and others as they try to express their frustrations with Israeli rule, either as second-class citizens inside Israel or under military occupation outside. She includes old footage of DAM spouting trite gangster clichés and contrasts that tellingly with the highly politicized songwriting that followed. Avoiding the worst aspects of American hip hop was not the only stumbling block Palestinian rappers have to overcome. Even inside their community the voice of protest isn't always embraced when accompanied by dress in the fashion of US hip hop or by independent females performing on stage. By and large the biggest obstacles come from Israel and it's infrastructure. The low wage jobs available to most Palestinian citizens may not allow one to meet with record executives in Jordan, or perhaps curfew has been imposed and one cannot make a trip to the studio. Will permits granted be recognized at the Erez Checkpoint? Inshallah but it's all up in the air.

Salloum throws in some gimmicky transitions and unnecessary animation a la Waking Life occasionally, distracting from the film's core. These, combined with the very late introduction of new characters that cannot be properly developed are the main reason why it drags a bit during the last 20 minutes. Still, the film's obvious qualities make it one of the highlights of this year's festival. One of Slingshot Hip Hop's most engaging moments follows a transition between footage of the rowdy audience at a DAM concert in September, 2000 to video of the crowd protests that came shortly after with the outbreak of the Second Intifada. That short segment, from celebrating resistance to participating in it, embraces one of hip hop's strongest elements better than any documentary since Style Wars.

Slinshot Hip Hop will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center on 25 April at 8:15pm. Filmmaker Jackie Salloum will be present for an audience discussion.

Dr. Al-Arian with President Bush

USA vs. Al-Arian

"What would it have taken for you to convict?"

Dir. Line Halvorsen
100 min.

Palestinian activist and University of South Florida educator Dr. Sami Al-Arian was arrested in February 2003 when the FBI invaded his Florida home. He faced various charges related to terrorism and his case was given intense publicity with no less a figure than then-Attorney General John Ashcroft holding a press conference to celebrate the arrest. Only one small bump remained in the path of the US Attorney in prosecuting Al-Arian. When, after having acquitted Al-Arian of the most serious charges he faced, a juror was asked what it would have taken to convict, he replied, "Evidence." Rather than one against Al-Arian, the case Norwegian director Line Halvorsen presents is an indictment against a justice system operating to achieve political goals with little or no regard to civil and human rights.

Halvorsen presents a damning array of professional analysts who pick apart the government's case while Al-Arian himself and family members, including young children far more versed in the legal system than kids probably should be, lay out the personal and political implications of his arrest and imprisonment. As the film moves from charges to acquittal to more charges and Al-Arian's continued imprisonment, the effects of the constant pressure and scrutiny begin to take their toll and Halvorsen is around to document it all.

USA vs. Al-Arian is a solid film and one that would presumably open the eyes of viewers previously unfamiliar with the treatment of Muslims, especially those who speak up for human and civil rights, in the United States. Where it fails is in the pacing and in the unipolar angelic portrayal of Al-Arian. The film has some trouble picking up the pace again after the initial acquittal. This is understandable given that they probably expected the exercise to be finished at that point. But the real problem is with the 100% uncritical view of Al-Arian. This is not to say that Halvorsen should have gone out of her way to paint him in a negative light; by all accounts he seems to be a pretty fantastic guy. But given how few saints walk this earth, it seems likely that the as-yet-unconverted audience members will be likely to hold onto a xenophobic skepticism.

Please see the schedule for showtimes. As always comments and discussion are encouraged. JJ




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