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Leeds Palestinian Film Festival – Stitching Palestine

Director: Carol Mansour

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

12 Palestinian women discuss their lives before and after the diaspora, each connected by their love of embroidery. It is the story of their homeland and their accounts are intensely personal. The documentary begins with the bold statement:

Those women who remained in their homeland were accused of non-existence. It was said to them: You are not here. They responded: We are not a lie inside a plot, we are here.

Director Caroline Mansour uses stories and imagery that belong to women and told by women. They talk about thobe – a traditional Palestinian form of cross-stitch, something that was available to them even as a refugee or in exile. Most importantly, all 12 interviewees have stood up to occupation and developed resistance to oppression. 

These women also are interested in their own history and traditions and seek to preserve this even if estranged from their own family. And it is not just a literary link that sees the thread of embroidery as the thread of their disparate lives. As the narrator explains it:

The surface of the robe is now the storyteller … Each woman sits and tells her story. She speaks of her present and of the distant past, with fervour, lucidity and passionate love. With every stitch, the woman is hiding a story, a thought, a sigh. The individual threads do not melt in some collective narrative even though they embroider that narrative.

And for each of these stories embroidery is a creative act, not just a pastime. Malak al-Husseini Abdulrahim has only been given a pass to the West Bank so has to illegally creep around trying to outwit the checkpoints. While for Nazmieh Salem, born and raised in refugee camps and now living near Beirut, her embroidery also serves as a profession when many other outlets are denied.

Amal Ziad Kaawash, singer and artist, uses her work to tell of her love for the homeland and a longing for reconciliation. Salma al-Yassir, herself an outsider, describes borrowed memories through stories told by both her parents and grandparents. Suad Al Amiry, Ramallah resident and founder of Riwaq, is interested in preserving the architectural heritage of Palestine. Leila Atshan, a psychotherapist also in Ramallah, has helped Intifada injured youths.

Huda Imam visits back to her father’s home in Jerusalem and says to the occupant:

This is my house, I didn’t sell it. I didn’t give it away.

Dina Nasser is similarly estranged and argues:

They [Israeli officials] were telling me, ‘You don’t exist.’ We don’t exist? We are here, we exist.

Raeda Taha, director and actor, tells the tale of the doorway to her family’s house that has been removed, taking away a piece of her identity. Leila Khaled, the former hijacker says:

I didn’t leave, they made me leave.

While barrister, Mary Nazzal-Batayneh, shares her work dedicated to the Palestinian cause. Stitching Palestine is an empowering and informative film that raises as many questions as it answers, whilst feeling truly authentic.

Reviewed on 26 November 2018 at Seven Artspace, Leeds as part of the Leeds Palestinian Film

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Empowering & informative

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The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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