For decades, the only headlines coming out of the West Bank city of Jenin were news of violence, struggle and destruction. This week, however, Jenin rolled out the red carpet on the very streets that experienced some of the worst fighting of the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, to celebrate the reopening of its only movie theater: Cinema Jenin.
The theater, built in the 1960s, closed its doors in 1987, following the First Intifada. For the past two years, a group of Palestinians and international volunteers have worked arduously on the $1 million restoration of the theater. They were led by German filmmaker Marcus Vetter, who spearheaded this effort after he realized that there was no place in the city to screen his Emmy-nominated documentary, “Heart of Jenin.”
“Heart of Jenin” tells the heart-wrenching story of Ahmed Khatib — a 12-year-old Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers who mistook his toy gun for the real thing — and his father Ismael Khatib, who decides to donate his son’s organs to six Israelis.
The renovation of the solar-powered theater was funded by many donors, including the German government, which helped finance the building of a 3-D projection system, a film school, a digital library, an open-air screen and a cafe. Roger Waters, the lead singer of Pink Floyd, donated a state-of-the-art sound system.
The hope is that Cinema Jenin will become an establishment that spurs cultural, educational and economic growth in this hard-hit region.
Thursday’s grand opening kicked off a three-day film festival, which will include screenings of “Heart of Jenin,” musical performances and discussions. The launch was attended by local citizens, political officials and activists, including Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Bianca Jagger, human rights activist and former wife of Mick Jagger.
“When I was in Jenin in 2002, I was shocked by the destruction of the city,” Jagger said during the opening ceremony. “Now I can see that Cinema Jenin gives the people new hope. I wish that the cinema will provide culture and education not only here in Jenin, but also in other cities throughout Palestine.”
On August 8, following the film festival, Cinema Jenin will screen a special selection of films in observance of Ramadan.