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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Mixed reception for Palestinian film
By Michael Voss
BBC correspondent in Ramallah

The award winning film The Olive Harvest by California-based Palestinian film director Hanna Elias has received a mixed reception at a screening in the West Bank where the love story is set.

The town of Ramallah may be best known for the ruined headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But despite all the fighting and deprivations of recent years, Ramallah is the only Palestinian town to boast a modern 300-seat wide-screen cinema and theatre.

Olive farmer
Some Palestinian olive farms are close to Israeli settlements
The showing of the American-financed, Palestinian-directed film was the sort of cultural night out not often seen in this war-torn land.

The local elite, artists, academics and politicians, all turned out in their best clothes.

The Olive Harvest is set in a West Bank village against a backdrop of encroaching Israeli settlements and checkpoints.

But the plot is not about Arab-Israeli relations. It's a Palestinian love story of a woman torn between two brothers.

Contemporary drama

The film was financed by Kamran Elahian, an Iranian American venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, who also helps run a range of charities in the region.

"The only time in America that we hear about Palestinians is when there is a suicide bombing. Because of that the average American thinks that all Palestinians are terrorists," he said.

"This film shows them as normal average people and gives us a window into their music, their culture, their value system."

I said it was directed at the West, not just ourselves, they still wanted to pack it with justice and slogans and righteousness
Hanna Elias, director
The Olive Harvest is a contemporary Palestinian drama exploring the complex love triangle between two brothers and their childhood friend.

It is set at harvest time in a rural olive growing community, passionate about its land. It is also a tale of the generation gap and the conflicts between traditional rural life and the desire of the young for a modern life in the city - in this case Ramallah.

The audience were quickly drawn into the film, the first full length feature for Elias. The cinema rang to the sounds of laughter as they connected with the characters and the struggles of love versus obligation and the conflict between young and old.

"It was very, very beautiful," one women said afterwards. "We are human beings first and we must think about love, not just about the Israeli army and jails, that's why the film is so beautiful."

Yet not everyone was happy that the film concentrated on human issues.

Heated debate

After the screening the film's director and writer Elias, who studied Sociology at Jerusalem University before going to study film-making at UCLA in California, fielded questions from the audience.

It turned into a heated debate. They may have enjoyed the love story but many felt that the Israelis should have been shown in a harsher light or excluded altogether.

"The world needs to know what is going on here, to see where the violence is coming from and what the Israelis are up to," was typical of the criticisms.

"I was surprised at how they reacted," Elias told me afterwards.

"I said it was directed at the West, not just ourselves, they still wanted to pack it with justice and slogans and righteousness. There are no such things in life, just 360 degrees of opinion."

The film, which won second prize at the San Francisco film festival, is also being shown to Israeli audiences who are divided over whether The Olive Harvest is propaganda, or a moving work of art.

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