In this year's eclectic Chicago Palestine Film Festival, two themes dominate: the tension between tradition and modernity, and the uneasy, often tragic relations between Palestinians and Israelis. The opening-night film, Annemarie Jacir's crowd-pleasing Wajib (Sat 4/21, 8 PM), stars real-life father Mohammad Bakri (Since You've Been Gone, HBO's The Night Of) and son Saleh Bakri (The Band's Visit) as a Palestinian patriarch and his expatriate son, a hipster architect who reluctantly leaves his home and girlfriend in Italy to return to Nazareth for his sister's marriage. The father, a born schmoozer, embraces the time-honored duty of hand-delivering wedding invitations, while the son, sporting a samurai topknot, rankles at his father's friendships with Israelis and the diplomacy required to circumnavigate a warm but fractious community.
In Writing on Snow (Thu 4/26, 8:15 PM), a bleak allegorical drama from Rashid Masharawi (Laila's Birthday, Ticket to Jerusalem), five Palestinians with different politics take refuge in a Gaza home as bombs rain down on them. Tempers fray in this pressure-cooker situation, and one intolerant, gun-toting stranger (Amr Waked of Syriana and Lucy) soon poses a more immediate threat to the group's survival.
Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young's documentary Disturbing the Peace (Wed 4/25, 8:15 PM) generates some optimism with its focus on Combatants for Peace, a group of disenchanted ex-soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces; in 2006 it formed a coalition with Palestinian resistance fighters who had studied nonviolent protest while imprisoned. The members are committed to stopping the cycle of violence and ending Israel's presence in the occupied territories, but unsurprisingly this causes them grief at home and in the streets. The filmmakers privilege colorful visuals—demonstrators carry large puppets and use theater games to build trust among themselves—though their documentary could use a few substantive scenes about the group's strategic planning.
Erika Cohn's revealing documentary The Judge (Thu 5/3, 7:45 PM) profiles Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first female Palestinian judge of sharia law. Her purview is domestic cases, and she often rules on women's rights. Some of the more sensitive matters involve multiple marriages (under sharia law a husband may have up to four wives simultaneously, so he'd better have money). Her most harrowing experience was a divorce case that ended when the mentally unstable husband murdered his wife, an incident that Kholoud and her colleagues recall at the scene of the crime. The documentary follows Kholoud's professional ups and downs, throughout which she remains shrewd, committed, and down-to-earth. v