GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza is getting ready to launch its first film studies major in the Palestinian territories in January 2017. The university program will be implemented in universities, as hundreds of students wishing to major in cinematography and film studies are unable to travel abroad to pursue their studies given the closure of crossings in the Gaza Strip, namely the Rafah crossing.
Although launching the program could be a bumpy ride given the lack of the necessary equipment, such as school curricula and other work equipment, the program organizers, a group of people who hold university degrees from art faculties in Egypt, are seeking to bring in some material from abroad or tap into the available modest tools in Gaza after having obtained preliminary approval by the Ministry of Culture in early October.
Mai Nayef, an academic and one of the people in charge of the program, told Al-Monitor, “The main reason behind this initiative is the lack of any film and cinematography major in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, despite the large number of students who wish to pursue this career.”
She added, “Gaza, in particular, is a fertile ground for the success and growth of such an initiative. The drama works and art projects that are produced every year, which culminate during the month of Ramadan through TV series and programs, are further proof of Gaza’s ability to thrive in this domain."
Nayef noted that the produced works by Gazan directors, filmmakers and photographers are made on an ad hoc basis and are drawn from their own personal experience without having acquired any scientific or academic expertise. Therefore, many Gazan artists and workers in the cinema industry will seek to enhance their skills through this new academic specialization. She also said that her group has been contacted by several directors, cinematographers and scriptwriters inquiring about the program’s schedule and admission dates.
She added that the needed textbooks will be brought in from Egypt given the scarcity of the necessary teaching material in Gaza’s libraries, stressing that her group is seeking to conclude an agreement with the Academy of Arts in Egypt for the procurement of the textbooks. This is in addition to contracting with some Egyptian academics to give lectures through video conferences and Skype calls.
Mohammed al-Bayoumi, a holder of a doctorate degree in cinematography from Egypt’s Academy of Arts and one of the program’s creators, expects the program to have a high turnout of students who are interested in cinema studies.
He stressed that the program’s administrators will focus on both theory and practice during the studies to ensure that the students will acquire the necessary experience to engage in the labor market.
Bayoumi told Al-Monitor that the program will be focusing on “acting, script writing, film directing and cinematography.” He expects that after completion of the two-year program, students will be able to engage in the labor market and participate in big film festivals in Gaza and abroad.
He stressed that several conditions were implemented for selecting educators, saying that applicants must hold a university degree in film studies, have experience in this domain and have won some awards for their productions and works.
Palestinian director Abdullah al-Ghoul told Al-Monitor, “This program is a great opportunity for many directors, actors and cinematographers in Gaza. Although they have acquired experience through work, they seek to obtain a degree in this domain.”
He noted that the many social, political and economic events and developments in Gaza can be shown to the world through short films and even TV series. Ghoul expressed hope that such a step would shift the attention back to the Palestinian cinema industry that burgeoned in the 1930s.
Gaza used to have 10 film theaters, first of which was al-Samer Cinema, established in 1944 in central Gaza. However, all of them are out of service. Some theaters were demolished, some were completely shut down, while other theaters were turned into public facilities. Gaza’s cinemas used to play Arab and Western movies brought in from abroad.
Lina Bukhari, the head of the cinema department at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, told Al-Monitor that the ministry supports such initiatives to promote the Palestinian cinema industry, stressing that this domain is highly advanced in the Gaza Strip in comparison with the West Bank.
She also stressed that concerted efforts between Gaza University, which will be launching the film studies program, and the Ministry of Culture along with other institutions could lead to a new strong infrastructure to serve as a launch pad for the program. This is especially true in terms of providing necessary academic equipment, material and references.
Photographer Alaa Suleiman, who is eagerly waiting to enroll in the program, told Al-Monitor that she is seeking to be admitted to the film studies program as she aspires to become a filmmaker. She said that she has been working as a photographer at a TV station because university majors in Gaza are limited to audiovisual and printed media.
Aspiring students must be holders of a high school diploma to be able to enroll in this new program.
Suleiman also said that she is expecting some difficulties down this path, as the film industry is seen as reserved for men only. She noted that she has faced some hardships when she first started working at Al-Aqsa TV three years ago, but she shrugged off all criticism.
Nuhad Abu Saleh, a Palestinian high school student, told Al-Monitor that he was considering stopping the enrollment procedures in the Fine Arts Faculty at Al-Aqsa University and will wait to apply for the new program at Gaza University that is scheduled to start in the beginning of 2017.
Saleh said he is passionate about acting, especially since he has taken part in many successful experiences during his school years. He sees the program as a way to develop his skills through scientific study so as to gain more experience and academic credentials.
Eventually it all boils down to the efforts of the trailblazers and their ability to attract students and to overcome the anticipated obstacles, such as acquiring the necessary materials, curricula and staff.