Stories of love and hope in the West Bank conflict zone

No matter the adversity and how hopeless the situation may seem, in the end love always wins. This is the inherent message that Hyderabadi filmmaker Pranav Pingle tries to convey through his documentary series.

Busy. Pranav, a freelance documentary maker, along with Prithvi Chahal (director of photography) and Arvind Menon (sound designer) shot this series in the West Bank conflict zone of Israel and Palestine just before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2018-19 . This five-part documentary series is the only Indian film to be shortlisted for the Athens International Film and Video Festival to be held in Ohio, United States in October.

As the current crisis in Palestine once again caught the world’s attention, Pranav and his team decided to go beyond the war zone and bring us stories of love, hope and love. creativity. “For decades the region has only been known for its stories of death and despair. When we arrived in the West Bank, we realized there was an even bigger story to tell. We decided to focus on the disenfranchised youth who have chosen the path of creativity over conflict in response to the cruelty around them, ”explains Pranav.

Each episode of this five-part series focuses on young people, who use their art form – music, calligraphy, street art, poetry, dance, etc. on them. From a guitarist working in a live music pub in Old Ramallah to a group of rappers in Qalandiya refugee camp, Occupy tells many heartwarming stories.

Speaking of the artists featured in the series, Pranav said, “In the first episode we introduce Shadi Zaqtan, a musician and singer who owns a pub in Ramallah, in the central West Bank. The man has been troubled all his life by the conflict in his native country. He wants to tell people that art is the most powerful way to revolt against anything and that it can bring attention to their cause without spilling blood. When I told Zaqtan that I wanted to make a documentary in the West Bank, he sounded more excited than me. He introduced me to people’s political and emotional concerns and showed how he weaves these issues into songs and poems.

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In the second episode, Pranav shines the spotlight on the calligraphy artists who have created solid works of graffiti art across the West Bank. “Hamza Abu Ayyash and Nabil Barham left their stable, well-paying jobs in Jordan to return home and try to make a difference in the West Bank. Their goal is to give hope to oppressed people who are suffering from an identity crisis, ”says Pranav.

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During his time in the conflict zone, Pranav and his team came across a trio of rappers – Orwa, Azreal and Selwadi – performing on the streets of the West Bank. He says: “Their group Saleek is very popular there. They express their pain through their rap and condemn the destructive forces on their land. They are young, fearless and full of hope for a better future.

Along with mainstream art, Occupy also features those who use their creativity to make a difference. Ala and Baha, brothers and sisters in Bethlehem, are the subject of the fourth episode. They have the uncanny knack of crafting useful items from war remnants. “Bethlehem is one of the worst affected areas in the region with more rubble strewn about than real houses. Ala and Baha are using this wreckage and other wastes to build water pipes, temporary shelters and other essentials, ”explains Pranav, adding,“ They also educate people on how to lead a hygienic life. They tell them that no matter how brutal the world is to them, they can always make something out of it. ”

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In the last episode, Pranav tells the story of ballet dancer Rand Ziad, the only woman in the documentary series. “Rand always dreamed of being a dancer and wanted to perform all over his country. Being Palestinian, it was very difficult for her to perform in Israeli territory. But thanks to her talent and courage, she managed to get a blue card to be able to travel to both countries and perform. The risks she took to get there are inspiring and makes a great story, ”said Pranav.

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Occupied was filmed at various locations in Palestine for 35 days by the three-member crew from Pranav, Prithvi and Arvind. The 30-year-old filmmaker admits it was difficult to shoot in a conflict zone. “Often we were asked to kneel at gunpoint. We later realized that our movements were being watched by snipers perched at distant vantage points. We had to explain why we were there and what our intentions were in order to get us out of trouble. When a problem gets worse, people usually take a step back from the situation. But we decided to go ahead and shake things up, ”says Pranav.

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With the film’s post-production complete after 18 months, Pranav is eager to see how it presents itself on the big screen. “We donated our blood, sweat and tears to this project. Yes, it was risky and challenging, but if life gave me a second chance, I would do it again, ”he adds.

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