2021, The Year That Was: Nadia Rouchdy, Co-Founder, Reel Palestine
"What I loved about 2021 is that even though the world threw us so many challenges, we were still able to bring Palestinian stories to the forefront, and explore an ever-ranging world of characters, narratives, and relationships, in a way that isn't done through traditional media."
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Ever since it launched in 2015 as an annual film festival dedicated to showcasing Palestinian cinema in the UAE, Reel Palestine has played an integral role in sharing a variety of perspectives about and stories from Palestine to the world at large, and this year's instalment of the event -its seventh edition so far- proved to be no different.
"The energy at our 2021 festival was amazing," declares Nadia Rouchdy, co-founder, Reel Palestine. "I'm always blown away by the community we've built over the last few years. We worked mostly from home in 2020 and in isolation, so when the festival took place in January 2021, it was such a treat to see people coming together, discussing the films they saw, how it changed their perspective, and how it created empathy and awareness on topics they hadn't yet been exposed to."
While this year's event had to take a multitude of safety measures into consideration to safeguard attendees from the COVID-19 pandemic, Rouchdy is glad to note that none of them took away from the essence of the Reel Palestine mission. "What I loved about 2021 is that even though the world threw us so many challenges, we were still able to bring Palestinian stories to the forefront, and explore an ever-ranging world of characters, narratives, and relationships, in a way that isn't done through traditional media," she explains. "We don't show one narrow perspective, but instead many different perspectives. Every year, I am proud that our team and partners are able to do this."
It's this impact that Reel Palestine has had in terms of shifting perceptions and facilitating conversations around the Palestinian cause that make it an enterprise worth watching in the MENA region's cultural space. While it was, until very recently, run by people on a 100% volunteer basis, Rouchdy reveals that changes are now underway in terms of how the enterprise is structured.
Image courtesy: Reel Palestine
"From an organizational perspective, I'm really excited to be pivoting the business from a purely volunteer basis, to a hybrid model that blends paid staff and volunteers," she says. "Initially to keep our costs low, we delivered this festival on a volunteer basis, and bootstrapped our budget like crazy. But as time went on, we realized that in order to keep the quality high and to deliver on our mandate, we need to invest resources into hiring staff who can dedicate their time and energy to make sure that every festival, and all our ongoing events outside of the festival, maintain momentum and consistency, and that we increase our capacity to bring on board more like-minded partners, and elevate our mission of bringing independent Palestinian cinema to the UAE."
Reel Palestine is now gearing up for its 2022 edition, with Rouchdy saying that its film program promises to be an exciting one. "My co-founder, Dana Al Sadek, has put together an eclectic mix of feature films, documentaries, experimental shorts, and more that will be screened at Reel Palestine," Rouchy reveals. "The program is the core of our festival and supported by our programmatic partner, Cinema Akil, and we will also host talks, Q&As with directors, launch a Palestinian sound archive and mix tape, and much more." At the same time, the restructuring of the business behind the scenes promises to make the new year an especially noteworthy one for Reel Palestine. "2022 will be a pivotal year for Reel Palestine," Rouchdy says. "We're investing in internal resources to bring our best foot forward, our team is growing, and we want to provide even more digital and physical spaces for our community. We're looking to bring in more creative partnerships, and increase our overall yearly presence outside of the festival."
Image courtesy: Reel Palestine
Reflections 2021: Nadia Rouchdy, Co-Founder, Reel Palestine
Perseverance is key. "The main quality I recognize our team for is perseverance. We have a small and mighty team that has delivered seven film festivals, shown over 170 films, and hosted two international collaborations. We have pushed through years without any sponsors, and we've continued to be passionate about Palestinian film for eight years now since our inception. We've evolved and grown, but we've always kept the core elements of what makes us proud of who we are: being a community-led and community-driven festival coming from the grassroots, and delivering what our community needs. We've pushed through difficult times, and we're proud to be able to continue the work we do."
Always, always, always have open conversations with your team. "We make it a point after every film festival, and every year, we reassess our passion, our capacity, and the mental space we can each give to the platform in the next 12 months. These conversations are sometimes very emotional, but they are honest and truthful to what the team is feeling. The work we do can also be highly emotional, and this year has been heavy for many in this space, so we also make sure we keep the concept of burnout at the top of our mind, and make sure we always hold space for open and transparent conversations."
Tell your story and network as much as you can. "It's sometimes easy to assume people know what you do, and why you do it. But this year has been a lesson in making sure that we keep advocating for our festival and the pop-up events we put out, in order to make sure we're always finding collaborative spaces and partners to help further our mission."