Morning Edition: February 10, 2004

At Last, Gaza Gets a Movie Theater


Residents of Gaza City earlier this month attended the opening of a new cinema. Using donated equipment and movies from Norway, the city now boasts Gaza's first working cinema in nearly a decade. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON reporting:

In 1995, the New Statesman published an article called Gaza Blues, which featured a scene of children picking through the rubble of the Daral-Jallah cinema in Gaza City, holding up scraps of celluloid to the sunlight to see the images. The movie house had been ransacked by Islamist hard-liners during riots the previous fall, the article said, adding, quote, "this is the closest these Palestinian children are likely to get to seeing a movie for the foreseeable future."

That prediction remained true for nearly 10 years until now.


KENYON: Workmen put the final touches on the large rectangular wood frame that would support the screen for the new Horst Park Cinema(ph). Acting director Nassir Dremli(ph) says the addition of the cinema to a theater used until now mainly for live drama is a welcome development, something to help Gazans feel slightly less cut off from the rest of the world.

Mr. NASSIR DREMLI (Acting Director): It is all over the world and in Gaza--there are no cinemas in Gaza. So we need it here. We are a part of the world. We should be also connected with cultural issues and events which happen all over the world. So this will be a great opportunity for us.

KENYON: Like the rest of Horst Park, the cinema project depends on the donations of the Horst Fund, named in honor of the former Norwegian foreign minister J.J. Horst, who played a significant role in the Oslo peace process. Horst Park provides a rare oasis for Gaza's children, a place to receive basic lessons in music, the visual and dramatic arts, as well as computer training and other courses.


KENYON: In the narrow projection booth above the auditorium, a Norwegian technician finishes hooking up the bulky silver-green vintage projector.

Unidentified Man #1: Trying to connect the mains, so far, yeah, the mains, and the interconnection between the rectifier and the projector line. So it's going to work quite nicely, I think, yeah.

KENYON: Jens Olsen(ph) with the Norwegian Film Institute says the projector may be more than three decades old, but it's easy to maintain and can handle all modern 35mm films.

Mr. JENS OLSEN (Norwegian Film Institute): So it's a Bauer projector from the late '60s which had been in operation in a cinema in Norway which we pulled out and sent down to Palestine. That's the nice thing about 35mm, it's the same all over the world, and you can play modern film or 100-year-or-so-old film so...

KENYON: To say that the arts and culture scene in Gaza is struggling is a severe understatement. The Israeli closures and restrictions intended to block the movement of suicide bombers and gunmen also keep most of Gaza's artists and performers cut off even from their colleagues in the West Bank, let alone the outside world.

Then there are the internal conflicts with conservative Islamists rejecting many forms of artistic expression as immoral. Local artists say the financially troubled Palestinian Authority tends to give mainly lip service to arts and culture, focusing what little money it does spend on the West Bank city of Ramallah.


Unidentified Boy #1: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Most of the movies donated so far are Norwegian but the theater is looking for films from other countries, too. For the children of Gaza City, where the most common artistic expression in recent years has been the pro-Intifadah and anti-Israeli graffiti that lines the streets, the prospect of a new movie house is exciting. This group of young boys offered a flood of suggestions that would be recognizable to pre-adolescent male moviegoers around the world.

Unidentified Boy #2: Van Damme.

Unidentified Boy #3: Van Damme.

Unidentified Boy #4: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Boy #5: Rambo.

Unidentified Boy #6: Rambo.

Unidentified Boy #7: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Boy #8: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, action movies.

Unidentified Boy #9: And Zorro.

Unidentified Boy #10: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: You know The Rock? This is a wrestling--yeah.

KENYON: Wrestling.

Unidentified Boy #11: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: Jackie Chan, as well.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News.

Unidentified Boy #12: Superman, Batman.

EDWARDS: The time is 21 minutes before the hour.

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