New Palestinian generation finds freedom amid walls, checkpoints, conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a struggle that dates to the early 20th century. As the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories reaches its 50th year, Palestinian civilians continue to endure lives permeated by personal and political obstacles to basic freedoms.
“Hurdle,” a 2019 award-winning independent documentary film, takes a fresh look at this old conflict, focusing on the efforts of Palestinian young people to rise above literal and figurative obstacles. On Tuesday, Oct. 6, the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at East Tennessee State University is sponsoring a free online screening of “Hurdle” as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers’ 2020-2021 series.
“One of the things we love most about this annual film series that we have hosted for 11 years is that it takes us to places we likely will never see in person,” says Martin School Director Anita DeAngelis, “and we gain perspectives we never could have imagined without these cinematic journeys and talkbacks with the filmmakers.”
“Hurdle” will be streamed Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and will re-screen on Sunday, Oct. 11, at 4 p.m. The screenings will be followed by a pre-recorded Q&A with Director/Producer/Cinematographer Michael Rowley. To view the trailer and register for, or “pre-order,” the free virtual screenings of “Hurdle,” visitwww.etsu.edu/martin.
“Among the conflict’s most haunting manifestations are the walls that weave through the landscape, painting a physical and metaphorical picture of a calculated dehumanization and marginalization of the Palestinian people,” says Rowley, who lives in Dallas and makes his documentary feature debut with “Hurdle.” “The walls separate Palestinians from their families, from their ancestral land, from their holy sites and, in many ways, from basic human freedoms and dignity.
“It was during this work that I first heard of young Palestinians who were addressing these physical barriers with defiance and creativity.”
The occupation and its strictures become personal as viewers meet Sami al Batsh and Mohammad Alazza, who, on opposite sides of the separation wall in the Palestinian territory, are using their creative talents to pursue freedom for Palestinian youth in unexpected ways.
For 24-year-old Sami, parkour – the acrobatic art of moving through an environment quickly and efficiently – makes walls and other physical obstacles trivial for the youths he coaches and mentors. Parkour, Sami says, is “the sport that makes us feel the feeling that everyone wants: freedom.”
For 26-year-old Mohammad, a photojournalist and lifetime resident of Aida refugee camp, teaching photography and storytelling to refugee youths serves as a form of psychological escape from the walls that contain them.
Israel calls the wall a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation wall. Though they are kept apart, Sami and Mohammad are united in leading the next generation toward freedom and self-determination.
Rowley says he hopes that the attitudes and courage of the mentors and young people “Hurdle” spotlights will move others toward justice and equality in their own communities.
“I believe that ‘Hurdle’ audiences will walk away not only entertained, but better informed and equipped with a deeply human story of our characters,” Rowley says. “Their resilience in the face of hardship and their profound use of creativity as a means to find personal freedom has left me inspired and humbled to share part of their story.
“My hope is that audiences see these young men and who they represent globally in a new light –with beauty, complexity, hope and with a determination to practice their freedom.”
For more information on the film, which won the Social Justice Film Festival Gold Jury Prize and Best Documentary Feature at the Tulsa film festival, visit www.hurdlefilm.com.
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
The third in this 2020-2021 six-film series – “Fandango at the Wall” – will be streamed on Monday, Nov. 2, and Sunday, Nov. 8. Spring films in the circuit will be “Cane Fire,” “Warrior Women” and “Socks on Fire.”
For more information on upcoming circuit films, visit www.etsu.edu/martin. For additional information on the Martin School of the Arts, call 423-439-8587.