The Chicago Palestine Film Festival (CPFF) is an independent, not-for-profit 501 c3 status organization, nonsectarian project based in Chicago that exhibits and promotes films by Palestinian directors and films about Palestine. CPFF is dedicated to presenting a film festival that is open, critical, and reflective of the culture, experience and vision of the filmmakers.
Our seventeen year old organization started as a simple project among a small group of students, community activists, and professionals who recognized the failure of the mass media and mainstream entertainment to contribute to an honest, positive image of Palestinians and their place in history and the world. At the beginning of the second intifada and in the largest city of the Palestinian diaspora, we found ourselves in the right place at the right time to develop a successful program of education, entertainment, and cultural advocacy that is connected to filmmakers and our local community.
The CPFF committee was formed in mid-2001 with the original intent of having a small film festival at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) campus. The simple purpose of the film festival was to introduce to Chicago the history and many varied voices of the Palestinian people and their nation, Palestine. It was agreed by committee that the festival would be free and open to the public, and a grassroots donation campaign was undertaken by the committee.
Despite months of work and negotiations by a small group of UIC students, the university administration refused to allow Palestinian films to be exhibited without Israeli films offering the opposite perspective. However, despite this pressure, the committee remained steadfast in its commitment to a film festival that rose above political conflicts and that constructed an essential Palestinian identity that reflected Palestinians’ sense of their own humanity and history. The university withdrew its support and financing of the project. Furthermore, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 forced the whole country to reassess its priorities, so the committee decided to reorganize and to plan for a much larger Spring 2002 festival. The festival was no longer a student project but a community organization with international aspirations.
The first CPFF took place in 2002 over a period of 9 consecutive days from April 18th-26th. The events were free and held at three different geographical locations to allow people from the entire Chicago area access to the events. Those locations were Women in the Director’s Chair, the Chicago Cultural Center, and on the campus of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Due to the popularity of the film festival, the committee agreed to plan another film festival for the following year. Since that time, CPFF has become an annual event and is currently held at the Gene Siskel Film Center, one of the most prestigious film venues in the country.
CPFF has proven to be an open and critical venue for films about and from Palestine. In a time of continued debate and political fracture, CPFF is envisioned as a resource where representations of Palestine and Palestinians can be given further articulation. Given the Chicagoland area’s large Arab population, our film festival has provided our constituency the opportunity to view, discuss and participate in the necessary conversations these images evoke. Furthermore, it has also served as an arena whereby the general public are given the opportunity to view films that would otherwise not be screened.
To date, CPFF has screened well over 200 independent films in Chicago. Such films address various aspects of Palestinian society, art, culture and humanity. The majority of these films have served as foundations for further discussion on socio-cultural norms in Palestinian communities here and abroad. Furthermore, they often call into question the legitimacy of Palestine in the Middle East and its diaspora. By using film in this sense, each producer and director is given the space to directly address various political, economic, linguistic and social challenges they face to a large audience. This outlet fosters a vast dissemination of information whereby the experiences of these communities are able to transcend ambiguous national boundaries and be shared by audience members in Chicago..