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October 24, 2002 GSA explores MidEast through arts festival




by Melanie Takefman

Student Celine Leduc was in the Hall Building when a protest against a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu turned violent on September 9. Disturbed by the aggression, she found it difficult to work on her MA in the history and philosophy of religion.

“Something had to be done about the situation on campus,” Leduc said. She felt the need to look at the conflict in the Middle East on a “more human level.”

With the support of the Graduate Students Association, Leduc organized a festival of Middle Eastern films and poetry that will span 10 weeks. Her goal is to provide a forum where “people feel safe and can open up.”

The festival’s first installation was a screening in several parts of Children of Jerusalem, a documentary about the lives of Israeli and Palestinian children during the peace talks of 1990-5. Leduc said that the response to the film was very positive. About two dozen people of various ethnicities attended and “they all left with a smile,” she said. “When you see the kids [in the movie], you become totally disarmed. Film and art are the best therapy.”

Similarly, the discussion following the film was cultural in nature, not political. Children of Jerusalem director Beverly Shaffer attended one of the screenings. Many people asked her how the children she filmed are affected by the current conflict.

Leduc said that the debate is based on freedom of speech and the respect of others. “People think before they speak, and there is a gentleness that comes out.”

The National Film Board donated all of the films for the festival. Future presentations include Beyond Borders by Jennifer Kawaja, who followed Arab women activists on a tour of the U.S. and Four Women of Egypt by Tahani Rached, a documentary of divergent cultural and religious experiences in Egypt. All of the presentations will be videotaped.

At publication time, poets of many nationalities, languages and religions were planning to present their work on April 9. For Leduc, poetry has a special healing value. “With poetry, you can touch on emotions.”

The GSA Middle East festival takes place every Wednesday night until mid-May from 7-9 p.m. at 2030 Mackay.