In Moving Images of Home (Di Stefano, 2002) John Di Stefano explores how “notions of physical geography and its relationship to history have become more fluid than they were in the past (Di Stefano, 2002)” and investigates how this is represented on film.
Di Stefano’s particularly interested in the notion of home and the sense of belonging that fills us when we feel that we’re at home. Writing about displaced peoples he suggests that “the notion of home is perhaps best understood as a sense of being between places, rather than being rooted definitively in one singular place and, by extension, exclusively to one singular identity (Di Stefano, 2002)”. He goes on to investigate the concept of nations and national identity, writing that:
Rather than a fixed state, the concept of nation might more accurately be described as a performative and enacted space within which one is perpetually engaged in trying on roles and relationships of belonging and foreignness. Rather than a type of monolithic physical entity that anchors and fixes a singular identity, the nation might be more accurately understood as codes of belonging of Home that situate changing identities […] Indeed, what makes the concept of the nation so resonant is that it locates belonging as an identity within a narrative – and consequently within an image – of home. Narratives, however, are fluid, able to mutate and reconfigure themselves as required and desired by the subjectivities of those who are narrating. (Di Stefano, 2002)
Thus the concept of a nation is linked to the concept of narrative; national identity is a story which Di Stefano links to film through the work of exiled filmmakers. He writes that:
More often than not, it is the displaced person who attempts to make tangible what is missing and absent. Through the imagination, the void of what has been left behind is present precisely because it is not physically tangible. In this sense, longing is a perpetual process of attempting to appear. That which disappears is, for a displaced person, in a state of potential reappearance by virtue of the desire to have it reinstated. The creation and circulation of moving images (video, and so on) play an important role in this process of imagination, in (re)imagining the nation. (Di Stefano, 2002)
He goes on to write about the in-between nature of exile and displacement:
Indeed, it is perhaps a cumulative process of both this desire to leave and the impossibility of ever fully and completely returning, that marks the unique and complex position of many displaced persons today. It is the tension of knowing both worlds and never being able to arrive or entirely depart that propels them. We might reformulate this betweenness as a type of disappearance between two imaginary physical places. Displaced persons are not so much caught between two worlds as they are engaged in constructing various forms of simultaneous identities that enable them to participate in more than one code of belonging and thus inhabit different imaginary geographies. (Di Stefano, 2002)
Is it this “betweenness” that appears in the in Palestinian and other Middle Eastern cinema. It’s the psychological occupation investigated by Elia Suleiman and the space between the cracks that he explores. And Di Stefano’s description of the super-modern non-places is equally valid as a description of Israel to the Palestinians who live there: “a type of porous home-space that can be occupied regularly, but that can never be inhabited in the traditional sense (Di Stefano, 2002)”.
Discussing the work of exiled filmmakers (he picks out Trinh T. Minh-ha, Elia Suleiman, Richard Fung and Shirin Neshat as examples) he writes that:
[Their films] are often characterized by discontinuity, fragmentation, multifocality, multilingualism, self-reflexivity, autobiographical inscription, and so on. Critical juxtapositions of audiovisual and narrative elements and inventive strategies of plurality mark these works, identifying them and consequently allowing for identification with them. (Di Stefano, 2002)
These are the hallmarks which exemplify much of Palestinian cinema, and which I want to investigate a little more.
Di Stefano, J., (2002), Moving Images of Home, Art Journal, 61 (4), pp. 38-51