The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University has acquired an important collection of over 100 feature films, shorts, and documentaries by Palestinian filmmakers, assembled and donated by Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and a world expert on Middle Eastern cinema.
The collection spans the history of Palestinian filmmaking and includes both classic and obscure films from most acclaimed Palestinian filmmakers over the past thirty years. The collection provides a mine of information about the history and the variegated life experiences of Palestinians, as well as invaluable testimony to what Dabashi has called "the emergence of one of the most exciting national cinemas in recent memory."
Professor Dabashi began to compile Palestinian films when he was preparing to teach a course on transnational cinema at Columbia University in the late 1980s. The effort took him to Palestinian camps in Beirut, Damascus, Amman, and elsewhere, and he was eventually able to enlist the help of many other dedicated filmmakers (Michel Khleifi, Hany Abu Assad, May Masri, Annemarie Jacir), scholars (the late Edward Said, Joseph Massad, Rashid Khalidi), and directors of film festivals (Richard Pena, Irene Bignardi) in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. The journey culminated in the organization of the first Palestinian film festival in New York in 2003 at Columbia University (which was curated by Annemarie Jacir), the publication of Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (Verso 2006), a volume edited by Professor Dabashi, and the subsequent establishment of Dreams of a Nation, an online database of Palestinian cinema that uniquely attempts to create an archive of materials on Palestinian cinema in the United States.
The collection is unique as several factors have militated against the documentation and preservation of the Palestinian cinematic heritage. The absence of a cinema industry infrastructure and cultural archives in Palestine, the disastrous disappearance (perhaps intentional destruction) of the only known Palestinian film archives from Beirut in 1982, as well as the turbulent history of materials recording Palestinian artistic and cultural production in general have all added to the significance of this collection.
A wide range of genres and topics is represented in the film collection. Feature films include recent items by important directors such Michel Khleifi (Tale of Three Jewels 1995), Elia Suleiman (Divine Intervention 2002), Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now and Rana's Wedding 2002), and Nada El-Yassir (Four Songs for Palestine). Also included are such historically important feature films as Kais Al-Zubaidi's Palestine, A People's Record (1984) and They Don't Exist (1974). Shorts include Ula Tabari's Private Investigation (2002) and Elias Hanna's The Mountain. Experimental video projects include Nabila Irshaid's Travel Agency (2001). Documentaries include Najwa Najjar's Naim and Wadee'a (1999), Gargour Maryse's Blanche's Homeland (2001) and Zubaidi's Crossing Kalandia (2002).
Columbia University Libraries has one of the country's best academic library collections on Middle East studies, one that provides a strong context for the use and promotion of this unique film collection. The Middle East and Islamic Studies Collections include materials from and about the region and its individual countries, in major Western languages as well as in the many languages of the area (Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Kurdish, Maltese, Persian, Turkish, etc.). The number of print monographs in the ME collections currently exceeds 448,000 titles.
The collection will be housed in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.