This fall, Palestine advocates in Rochester, NY, will host the eighth annual Witness Palestine Film Festival. From October 14 – November 9, the festival will present five films and will end with a Celebrate Palestine event. The first of the films will be shown at St John Fisher College. The other four will be screened at The Little Theatre, Rochester’s finest and best-known independent film venue.
The festival was born in 2012 as a project of Rochester’s ecumenical group, Christians Witnessing for Palestine. The festival planning committee is open to members of our local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim community, and secular activists. Committee members contribute as they are able to a wide range of tasks, including evaluation of possible films for the following year, securing licensing agreements, recruiting panelists (whenever possible, a person associated with the creation of the film), fundraising, publicity, coordination with the venues, and logistics at the showings. It’s a significant effort spanning many months that is made manageable by a dedicated mix of experienced and more recent volunteers. The festival is the largest advocacy effort of Christians Witnessing for Palestine.
At the festival’s website, we have descriptions of this year’s films along with the dates, times, and location of the screenings. The archive section lists films shown each year since the festival’s inception in 2012. Where do we find the films? In a variety of places! Festivals in larger cities such as Boston and Toronto are often helpful resources. One of the films we’ll show this year was mentioned in a footnote of a book that one of us was reading. When one starts to look, ideas emerge! And, now that we’re somewhat established, film makers and distributors reach out to us suggesting that we consider a new film of theirs. Once we’ve identified a number of possibilities, we contact the distributors and request “screeners”, which provide us with links and passwords enabling committee members to view the films privately for evaluation. When we’ve made our selections, we then proceed to work out a licensing agreement to show the films publicly and charge for admission.
Celebrate Palestine this year is an example of a special event we attempt to include each year. It will feature an afternoon workshop on storytelling, led by Boston-based, Palestinian American Nadia Abuelezam, creator and host of Palestinians Podcast. Our hope is that the workshop will offer members of Rochester’s Palestinian community an opportunity to tell and share their stories. That evening, we’ll host a dinner open to the public where Nadia will speak. In recent years, the special events of our festival have featured Palestinian human rights attorney, author, and activist Noura Erakat and author Susan Abulhawa.
And the costs? Our 2019 festival budget is about $7,300. The budget includes expenses associated with using The Little Theatre, honoraria to our panelists and guest speaker, advertising, printing, and film licensing. Most of our revenue comes from two sources – donations and the sale of ads in our Program Booklet, which is distributed to those attending the films. Ticket sales are another source of festival income.
During its first seven years, the Witness Palestine Film Festival has attracted an audience of over 3,200. It is perhaps the most visible form of Palestine advocacy in the Rochester area. We have no paid staff, no endowment, nor do we receive any grant funding. We have made it work. And we would welcome the chance to share our experience and resources with you.