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Asharq al-Awsat:

Mideast Wire

On May 7, the English language website of the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat carried the following report: "Palestinian producer Yousef Aldeek, 43, travels with his companions from one region to the next in the Palestinian territories to wherever Palestinians reside, whether in remote countryside areas, neighborhoods or refugee camps.

"Armed with their modest equipment and big dreams, they travel around as a moving cinema screening films and spreading joy. With "making happiness" their chief objective, Aldeek and his friends tour the poverty-stricken areas in the Palestinian territories to show movies, predominantly Palestinian but also including Arab and international films.

"The Mobile Cinema," Aldeek told Asharq Al-Awsat, "targets the poorest segments of society." He added that the shows are for everyone "children, women, youth and the elderly and anyone who has never been to the cinema before or who cannot go to view films in city centers."

"Aldeek knows all too well that there remain only one or two cinemas in Ramallah in the West Bank as compared to before the first Intifada in 1987 when every major city in the West Bank had two or three movie theaters. In fact; this was the motivating drive behind Aldeek's project.

"Although it is only a temporary project today, Aldeek hopes to make it permanent so as to "disseminate a communal cinema-going culture" among Palestinians. Although the producer and his friends were initially skeptical that the idea would work, they soon realized the "existing need people had for cinema."

"There was a huge turnout, which was surprising. In some of the villages we screened the films several times after pressing requests from audiences," he said. In the 60 villages and refugee camps in which the Mobile cinema travelled, over 7,000 viewers attended the shows.

"Most of the time," Aldeek revealed, "only one person out of the hundreds of people has been to the cinema before. Anyone under the age of 13 has never been to the cinema before."

"But the Mobile Cinema team is doing more than just screening films; they are creating a documentary film to highlight their experiences and the people's reactions and comments under the title "Making Happiness".

"And indeed, this is what Aldeek and his team seeks to achieve as they enthusiastically relate how they succeeded in their endeavor despite the minimal funding and notwithstanding the fact that they sometimes have to finance the shows at their own expense.

"Aldeek confirmed that it is a non-profit project and added, "We screen the films for free and do not charge the people anything. We are volunteers." However, he does not hide the fact that his team faces difficulties every day due to lack of funding, which potentially threatens the very purpose behind the Mobile Cinema – the ability to keep moving regardless of the obstacles in the way.

"Such hindrances include the lack of proper transportation and Israeli checkpoints. On one occasion the team was banned from entering a city in Nablus after being stopped at a checkpoint under the pretext of needing a permit as no one but the city's inhabitants were allowed to enter.

"The Palestinian films screened at the Mobile Cinema reflect the reality of the daily lives of Palestinians and they include, "Wedding without a Home", which revolves around a wedding held during the occupation, "I'm in Jerusalem" which tells the story of a boy who visits the Old City, prays in the Dome of the Rock, plays football and climbs olive trees in the Noble Sanctuary – only to wake up at the end of the film to realize it was all a dream. Other films include "Fifty Years after the Setback", which documents the suffering endured by the refugees, and "The Night of the Soldiers".

"Aldeek added that these films do not only recount the reality that the Palestinians are living, but are also culturally important and act as a doorway to keep the Palestinian people in touch with Arab and International cinema.

"Moreover, Aldeek regards the Mobile Cinema as a form of resistance; most of the films speak out against the Israeli occupation and reaffirm the Palestinian identity. By showing how people lead their lives in refugee camps and in remote villages, "we are resisting the destruction of our culture," he said. Aldeek also reveals, "When we play an Algerian or Tunisian film, for example, we find people comparing it to their culture."

"Next Saturday 10 May, the Mobile Cinema is planning to host an international film festival in which 24 international films will be screened. The festival will be aired live in cities worldwide, including Cairo and Paris. Aldeek disclosed that several prominent figures will be key speakers during the festival, including Queen Noor [al Hussein of Jordan].

"Despite the great success achieved by Aldeek and his team, they still confront difficulties and obstacles on the road to 'making happiness'. What started out as an idea; a second-hand 16mm projector and a few old reels, has now become a source of joy to so many people and especially children. The Mobile Cinema has recently seen an upgrade after the Palestinian Securities Exchange sponsored it and bought an LCD projector and films in DVD format.

"Aldeek explained that it would be ideal if they had a 35mm projector, but without sponsorship the funds are available to purchase one. And yet still; in their beat-up car that often breaks down during their road trips, Aldeek and his team refuse to give up on their dream. They can sometimes be seen carrying their equipment on the side of the road and hitching rides to their next destination and will do anything it takes to continue "making happiness." - Asharq al-Awsat, United Kingdom

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