The Swiss foreign ministry is supporting Palestinian filmmakers to help them overcome creative roadblocks in their homeland.
A year-long cultural exchange programme is set to begin this week at the first Ramallah film festival, where 20 Swiss films will be on show.
“Swiss-Palestinian Encounters” is aimed at creating links between filmmakers from both cultures and nurturing a new generation of Palestinian directors.
“The idea is to give opportunities to young Palestinian filmmakers,” said Nicolas Bideau of the Swiss foreign ministry, one of the backers of the project.
The promoters of the programme say that filmmakers have very few opportunities to perfect their craft in the occupied territories.
In most cases, local production companies are restricted to lucrative newsgathering or are used for propaganda purposes. The only other source of revenue is commissions from non-governmental organisations.
According to the foreign ministry, the lack of opportunities, coupled with a low level of cultural activity, means that budding movie directors are often stuck in a creative rut.
To help overcome some of these difficulties, at least eight young Palestinian filmmakers will be chosen during the festival to take part in a workshop aimed at developing their creative and technical skills.
“We want to help each of them produce a documentary, then select the best two or three and show them at the Nyon documentary festival,” Bideau told swissinfo.
The foreign ministry has made it clear that it wants to use cultural projects as a foreign policy tool. And the Middle East was a natural choice to test this vision, according to Bideau.
“The Middle East is a key area for Swiss foreign policy,” he added. “What was important here was to have a deeper debate about movies and documentaries.”
Bideau, who is the head of the foreign ministry’s cultural service, says he is not concerned about the Palestinians using Swiss aid to make political statements.
“We will not consider showing any documentaries without some kind of value,” he told swissinfo. “Besides, we only want to help develop skills, and not make a statement.”
Bideau admits, though, that in the current environment in the Middle East, any support could be construed as a political gesture.
“What we want is to support all forms of sustainable development in the Palestinian territories,” he said. “That may well be a political act, but we are working for peace in the region.”
He says there was little difficulty in setting up the project despite the tense situation in the occupied territories.
“The real difficulties are for the organisers of the festival,” he said. “For us, it’s not so difficult since we have a political presence there.”
“We have the right to run our own projects, and the Palestinians welcome our cultural initiatives.”
The initiative also has backing from Geneva’s Akka Films, Swiss Films, and the Jerusalem-based Al Ma’Mal contemporary art foundation.
The foreign ministry is funding about 75 per cent of the project’s budget, which runs to SFr50,000 ($40,000), with the remainder coming from Swiss Films.
swissinfo, Scott Capper
Over 20 recent Swiss movies will be presented at the Ramallah film festival, including feature films, documentaries and animation films.
Among the films shown is Jean-Luc Godard’s latest production, “Notre Musique”, which was presented at the last Cannes film festival.
A discussion between Swiss and Palestinian filmmakers has also been organised in Ramallah.