Professor Nadia Yaqub’s recent book Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution (University of Texas Press, 2018) situates Palestinian cinema squarely within mid-20th century political cinema.
In her introduction, Yaqub writes “Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution is an in-depth study of these films, the filmmakers, and their practices; the political and cultural contexts in which they were created and seen; and the afterlives the films have had with communities of Palestinian refugees and young filmmakers and other cultural actors in the twenty-first century. This study situates the works within regional and global conversations and practices surrounding the filmmaking and politics of the era. It offers detailed analyses of the films themselves, their coming into being, their distribution and viewership, and the intense interest they have generated during the past decade.”
Diana Allan (McGill University) wrote in a review in International Journal of Middle East Studies, “In six chapters, Yaqub deftly illuminates a series of shifts in the filmic conceptualization and representation of Palestinian resistance over the past fifty years. . . Palestinian Cinema elegantly weaves together a diverse array of sources––correspondence, personal interviews, memoirs, and other vital primary and secondary materials, including key revolutionary journals (al-Hurriya, Filasteen al-Thawra and Shuʾun)––and appends a comprehensive filmography of PLO films produced between 1968 and 1982. . . this book represents an invaluable and compelling contribution to scholarship on Palestinian filmmaking, Palestinian cultural production, and transnational, Tricontinental solidarity. It opens a window to a luminous period of revolutionary production that, until now, has been largely inaccessible to English-language readers, and invites reengagement with these vital, visionary works in a moment where inspiration is urgently needed.”
The process of researching the book involved intensive archival work as well as study of films and related materials collected by relevant cultural organizations. Her subject matter was inherently precarious, and has been undergoing constant erasure. In an interview with Nicholas Baer in Film Quarterly (72:1), Yaqub discusses her approach:
I relied heavily on the research, publications, and programming of others. In particular, the extensive work of the Palestine Film Foundation and its 2014 program “The World Is with Us” was fundamental to the book. Through the screenings and gallery installation of that program, I was able to study more than thirty films by Palestinians and solidarity activists. Some of that material has become available on YouTube, and a few titles can be purchased from distributors, but many others remain very difficult to see. While my book includes discussions of a number of films that were not included in that program (e.g., the Syrian material and the films that Kais al-Zubaidi made in the late 1970s), it would not be an exaggeration to say that the project would not have materialized without “The World Is with Us.” The library of the Institute for Palestinian Studies in Beirut was another crucial resource since it contains copies of almost all publications of the PLO and various Palestinian political organizations.
In the same interview, Yaqub notes that one of her goals was to reevaluate the role of compromise in the creative decisions of filmmakers:
My goal with the book is to contribute to our understanding of political cinema through close readings of films and attention to contextual details that illuminate some of the complexities inherent in this type of engaged creativity. How constraints, contingencies, and opportunities all shaped this film movement and the works that emerged from it expands our understanding of how cultural production works in the real world. Because filmmaking is complex, expensive, and collaborative, it is marked by compromise. This is particularly true of political filmmaking. Film scholars often focus on visionary filmmakers whose primary commitment is to their art. By treating the works of filmmakers who were committed to both filmmaking and a political project, I have attempted to offer an alternative understanding of compromise as a mode of film production. Compromise certainly limits expression, but it is also a necessary force that produces certain types of texts that deserve to be studied seriously and understood on their own terms.
The book was shortlisted for a Palestine Book Award, and in 2018 she was invited by Columbia University to curate a film festival on Gaza.