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Palestine and Saudi Arabia make debuts at Cannes marketplace

Palestine and Saudi Arabia make debuts at Cannes marketplace
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By Belle Donati
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For the first time, Palestinian filmmakers have an official business presence at Cannes

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For the first time, Palestinians and Saudi Arabians have official representation at the Cannes Film Festival.

While 18 Palestinian films have been selected for the event since 1987, its filmmakers have not had a pavilion in Cannes marketplace, where the business of the festival gets done.

"It's all about Representation… what happened to us is disappearance, we want to counter that," says Mohanad Yaqubi, curator of the public programme at the Palestine film institute and one of the pavilion's organisers. "Palestinians have a special relationship with cinema because camera equals visibility, it’s been used as a tool by Palestinians.”

Fifty metres away from the Palestinian pavilion, the Saudis are also celebrating their first year at Cannes. The kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on cinema last month, and the newly-launched Saudi Film Council is celebrating with a selection of 9 films by young filmmakers.

“I didn’t know I could be a filmmaker, it was not an option in Saudi Arabia. So it was just really self-taught - I taught myself. I would read a lot about film and experiment with film, so I would actually just grab a camera and go shoot," said Ali Alkalthami, the man behind Saudi film ‘Wasati’. "It’s exciting to experience public cinema in Saudi Arabia. You know, what's happening worldwide in cinema viewership and how it's changing to consuming digitally, maybe it's going to be the opposite in Saudi because people are excited to go out now."

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the Palestinians have films in the official selection this year. But with dozens of projects here to find funding, they’re hoping to change that next year.

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