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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Brian McCormick at 7:14PM
Menna Khalil

Blog post written by Brian McCormick, Film, Photo & Visual Arts '12, FLEFF Intern, Wilbraham, MA

Information for this program:

Documenting Iraq Burin: Stories from a Palestinian Village and Witness to Uprising: Voices from Cairo and New York

When: Tuesday April 12, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

Where: Friends 309

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FLEFF guest Menna Khalil is a graduate of DePaul University, and of American University in Cairo where she received her masters in International Human Rights Law. As a researcher and activist , Khalil is very concerned with ethnography and collecting the subjective stories of people to enable others to perceive places, people and events through their particular lens.

Khalil was kind enough to set aside time (on her birthday!) to discuss her recent work and travel, and what she will be presenting during her visit at the festival.

Q: What brought you to Palestine last summer and what work were you involved with?

A: "I hadn't had the opportunity to visit the West Bank before, and I was quite grateful for having that opportunity through a couple of programs which were taking place last summer specifically in Nablus and also other areas of the West Bank. I was on a delegation with the Research Journalism Initiative, which Michael Kennedy also works with, and we were helping to coordinate that delegation.

I'm really excited to talk [at FLEFF] about the experience ... the delegation had us working on multi-media projects focusing specifically on digital poetry and poetry of witness. We worked with international activists, young professionals, and also the local national students.

We went through a series of workshops at which we discussed different kinds of media, creating avenues which students or activists could reflect their views on what they bear witness to in Palestine. So that can be a slightly unorthodox form of talking about Palestine; it's quite different from the usual journalistic or human rights report, coverage and writing. We were keen on having a slightly different take on the way information is presented about Palestine and having all these stories we're collecting heard in a number of different ways."

Q: Could you talk more about your work in Iraq Burin?

A: "We were really interested in talking to different parts of the community, whether that was farmers, or the families of the boys [killed by Israeli soldiers], or the village council and the mayor.

In many ways that was the locals' perspective on what happened to the boys ... which creates a lens through which you can see much larger issues that are pertaining to the village of Iraq Burin but also to other communities in Palestine and how they deal with loss, representation and self-determination.

We were all quite moved by this kind of experiential narrative and wanted to take that and assist the village with constructing a web site through which they can raise more awareness and create their own versions of the stories that come out of their community and link up with other villages that are doing similar things."

Q: You recently spent four and half weeks in Cairo, can you tell us a little bit about your experience there?

A: "I'm Egyptian American. I was born in Cairo, and I moved with my family to the states in 1996, I was about 10-years-old. I partly grew up in Cairo, but I lived the majority of my life in Chicago. Obviously when the events happened, I didn't hesitate to go back to Egypt.

During the four weeks, I worked ... with two activist groups. There wasn't a form of political channeling, so you had a lot of groups out of this popular movement of the 18 days of the 'revolution' that felt that this is the perfect moment through which they can institutionalize themselves and start to work on representing different political views.

No one has seen that kind of political organizing, stemming from a longing for political participation, since the early '50s. This was kind of a reviving moment in many ways.

My particular role [working with the groups] was to gather stories -- again, because I am interested in ethnographic work. I was doing interviews with a variety of people in the Tahrir Square as well as elsewhere, basically anybody involved in that scene or impacted by it.

I intend on going back at the end of spring to visit other cities as well, again to bear witness, talk to people, do ethnographic work, and collect as many stories as possible."

Q: How does your experience and the presentation you're going to give fit into the context of FLEFF?

A: "Part of the reason of going to Cairo was figuring out, 'How do I utilize myself as an individual who is in-between two environments?'

It was about how to get yourself to contribute as much as possible to both environments and to create an awareness between the two. I feel the best and most genuine way of doing that is to go to Cairo for as long as possible in the hopes of returning to New York with testimonies, photographs, and other media of representation.

[We can help] by educating ourselves on what's going on and also contributing in different ways, such as FLEFF, through its educational, activist, and media orientation, by virtue of the kind of political issues that it chooses to engage with."

Q: What do you hope people will be able to take away from attending this presentation?

A: "What I'm most interested in having people walk out with is a better grasp of these issues and stories from the Middle East which are not necessarily being concluded or analyzed to fit a specific goal of understanding.

I think people don't necessarily want to be preached to, and there's information they can look up themselves on that. I think what's often inaccessible to us are these kinds of subjective stories from people who speak of their experience. That can resonate with any of us, regardless of where we're at, or whatever end of the political spectrum we're choosing to place ourselves."

For a behind the scenes interview with FLEFF adviser Dr. Harris, follow this link.

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Don't miss this event!

Documenting Iraq Burin: Stories from a Palestinian Village and Witness to Uprising: Voices from Cairo and New York

When: Tuesday April 12, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

Where: Friends 309

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