Filmmakers, actors shine light on Gaza at 77th Cannes Film Festival


TEHRAN-The 77th Cannes Film Festival, held from May 14 to 25 against the backdrop of ongoing Israeli-Hamas tensions, became a platform for filmmakers, actors, and activists to raise awareness about the plight of Gaza’s population. Despite the festival’s efforts to avoid controversy, artists found creative ways to express solidarity with Palestinians and draw attention to the war-ravaged enclave.

While festival organizers discouraged protests, discreet acts of solidarity have emerged. Palestinian filmmaker Rashid Masharawi set up a tent on a Cannes beach, showcasing short films made in Gaza since the conflict began. The films provided a window into the lives of those affected by the war and highlighted the resilience of Gaza’s creative community.

The Cannes Film Festival took a cautious approach, banning protests along the Croisette and hiring private security to protect jurors from activists. Initially, the festival considered allowing Arab filmmakers to wear pins supporting Palestinians in Gaza, but this plan was later abandoned. 

The festival chief Thierry Frémaux emphasized a desire for a polemic-free event, focusing on cinema rather than political debates. However, artists like French actor Omar Sy, who was also one of the jurors of the festival, used social media to express their views, condemning violence against children in Gaza. “There is nothing that justifies the killing of children in Gaza or anywhere,” he posted on Instagram.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, who attended the premiere of “The Apprentice,” became a trending topic on social media with her outfit reminiscent of the Palestinian flag.

Blanchett, who had previously demanded a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, caught attention as the combination of the black front, pale-pink back that appeared white, and green lining of the dress, merged with the red carpet, evoking thoughts of the Palestinian flag.

Italian actress Jasmine Trinca showed her support by wearing a brooch with the Palestinian flag pattern. Australian actor Guy Pearce wore a bracelet made up of the colors of the Palestinian flag. Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir posed for journalists, showing off the Palestinian flag sewn onto her glove.

Indian actress Kani Kusruti attended the premiere of her film “All We Imagine as Light” at the festival with a purse shaped like a watermelon slice. French actress of Algerian origin, Leila Bekhti, also wore a watermelon motif brooch. The brooch on the collar of her black dress as she walked the 60-meter red carpet before the premiere of “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” received admiration on social media.

The watermelon is a symbol of Palestinians’ public expression in protests and artworks, representing the struggle against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

American model Bella Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent, made a powerful statement by wearing a red and white keffiyeh dress, paying homage to her Palestinian roots. 

Her attire subtly conveyed solidarity with Gaza amidst the ongoing Israeli military action. Since the beginning of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, keffiyeh has become a prominent symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Additionally, British actress Pascale Kann wore attire with Arabic writing that read “Palestine”.

Danish-Palestinian director Mahdi Fleifel’s film “To a Land Unknown” stood out as the sole Palestinian entry at Cannes this year. The movie, which premiered during the Directors’ Fortnight, follows two exiled cousins, Chatila and Reda, stranded in Athens after fleeing a camp in Lebanon. Chatila dreams of opening a café in Germany and reuniting with his family, but their undocumented status and Reda’s drug addiction present insurmountable challenges. The film sheds light on the struggles faced by migrants and echoes the tragedy of statelessness that Palestinians endure.

Fleifel said the film’s script was inspired by the experiences of exiles he met while filming a previous documentary.  The filmmaker, who grew up in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, said he was “haunted” by stories that echoed Chatila and Reda’s. He described himself as “an exiled filmmaker who makes films about exile”. 

After the movie screening on May 22, the lead actors Bakri and Sabbagh, both of them Palestinian, were joined by a handful of female activists on stage brandishing Palestinian flags. One of the women shouted, “Free Palestine”. 

On May 22, dozens of filmmakers and actors including Valérie Donzelli, Lubna Azabal, and Laëtitia Eïdo attended a rally organized by women’s group Warriors for Peace to call – “in one breath” – for an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all remaining hostages. They held placards spelling out their demands in Arabic, Hebrew, French, and English.

Palestinian cinema did not have its own tent at the Cannes, but Algeria made space for its filmmakers at the other end of the international market.

On May 23, another event in support of Gaza was held by the Algerian Pavilion in Cannes. Under a Palestinian flag, attendants observed a minute of silence in memory of the tens of thousands of people killed in Gaza since the start of the war.

At the closing ceremony on Saturday, Belgian actress Lubna Azabal, president of the short film and Cinef jury, called for “the liberation of all hostages with no conditions and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza”. 

Lebanese actress and director Nadine Labaki, another juror at the festival, also cited a “divided world” and condemned the violence in the region.

As the world watched, Cannes remained a microcosm of global tensions, where art and politics intersected in unexpected ways.

More than 36,000 people, half of them women and children, have lost their lives, and over 80,000 have been wounded in Gaza since the war broke out between Israel and Hamas on October 7.

Half of Gaza’s buildings, including hospitals and homes, and hundreds of sites of cultural and religious significance, have been damaged or destroyed during the 7-month Israel’s war on Gaza.

Satellite imagery analysis reveals that around 50 percent of the total structures in Gaza and approximately 62 percent of all homes have been damaged or destroyed.

The catastrophic damage has left more than a million Palestinians without homes and nearly 2.3 million residents displaced, facing acute shortages of food, clean water, and medical services.


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