Apr 232013

cinema jenin

In the Western world access to the cinema is largely viewed as a right. But imagine living somewhere besieged by conflict, where the joy of visiting cinema has all but been lost. Cinema Jenin: The Story of a Dream is a documentary about bringing the magic of cinema back. Review after the jump.

In 1987 the intifada began, and Cinema Jenin on the West Bank was closed indefinitely. As the time passed and the casualties mounted, the cinema was all but forgotten, and it fell into a state of disrepair. In 2008 German film-maker Marcus Vetter began the long and fraught process of bringing the dilapidated building back to life, in the hope that cinema and the arts would once again be accessible to the residents of Jenin.

In a place as complex as Palestine, it’s not just as easy as simply restoring a building. Vetter had to navigate a venerable maze of obstacles to achieve his dream. From the government, to the owners, religious leaders, volunteers and of course the residents themselves – there were so many groups to consider and so many boxes to tick before any work of substance could get underway. Even when it seemed like things were settled, new challenges would present themselves and threaten the whole project. This was no easy task.


Along with the obstacles mentioned above there was also the very real threat to Vetter, other volunteers and people associated with the project. After years of mistreatment and reason to doubt people, the citizens of the area were very sceptical. Lies were whispered, lives were put at risk; and as a result the Cinema Jenin team often found themselves defending their decisions and debunking baseless rumours.

Cinema Jenin: The Story of a Dream is a powerful film which hit me right in the guts. Before any narrative, were the powerful images of the cinema in absolute disrepair. This, was heart-breaking.  I imagine a car-enthusiast would feel a similar way upon seeing their dream car in a mangled mess, as I did seeing that building in ruin. Once we recover from what a state the building is in, we soon come to understand the almost impossible task in front of them. It was an incredibly frustrating watch, and one which made me greatly admire all who championed the cinema.

This film also made me feel deeply ashamed. I am a film geek, a lover of cinema. I am someone who visits the cinema at least twice a week. I often complain about films getting delayed releases in Australia; or about how absurdly high the ticket prices are. This film served to remind me that access to film (particularly the vast range that I have access to) is a real privilege. For many people this is not a privilege; it’s not even a right. They either have no cinema to visit, or if the do, the films are so censored that they are little more than propaganda. The power that good cinema has to tell our stories is something which I believe all should have access to. This film showed the fight to bring this to one community – and it was a powerful fight to watch play out on the screen.

In the words of Marcus Vetter & key figure in the project, Dr Lamei Assir, “It is a film depicting moments of euphoria beyond words but also those of deep disappointment.” This film is a must-see for lovers of cinema and of the arts in general.


Cinema Jenin: The Story of a Dream is playing as part of the 2013 Audi Festival of German Films. For information about times/dates the film is screening, please visit the festival website.


By Sam McCosh