Interview with Festival Director Michael Kamel (DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival)

Founded in 2011, the annual DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival (DCPFAF) is a 501c3 nonprofit, volunteer-run enterprise that showcases the work of Palestinian filmmakers and artists around the world to audiences in the Washington DC metro area.



Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Michael Kamel: The DC Palestinian Film and Arts Festival (DCPFAF) prides itself on creating a space for Palestinian subjectivity.We highlight the voices and stories of Palestinian artists from around the world. Filmmakers show audiences their debilitating morning commutes to Jerusalem through the infamous Qalandiya checkpoint, the horrors faced during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, and life as a refugee in Greece. These are all stories that need to be heard.

But Palestinian subjectivity is also just that – life from the eyes of a Palestinian. One of our founders, Noura Erakat, describes it as not a Palestine festival, but a Palestinian festival. We’ve featured a short film about personal nostalgia and loss, a fictional animation on a street artist, and even a 1-minute fashion film. No Palestinian story is off the table!

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?

You should expect to laugh, cry, and move! The experience this year is loosely centered on Palestinian innovation in all forms, brought to the audience through several artistic mediums. Festival goers will be treated to a carefully curated selection of films that tackle topics from Palestinian image-making to Palestinian political prisoners, a live storytelling event featuring local DC Palestinian talent in partnership with the Boston-based Palestinians Podcast, the Hollywood writer-director-producer-actor extraordinaire Cherien Dabis, a new twist on the dabke (Palestinian folk dance), and more! There is truly something for everyone.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

All of our films must be written, directed and/or produced by someone who identifies as Palestinian. We then evaluate them based on three criteria: production value, entertainment value, and creativity. Our programming team discusses each film, their position and impact in the festival lineup, and what we would want the audience to walk away with.

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Each festival has their own broad mission and yearly vision; sometimes, a phenomenal film just may not fit into the festival’s scope for that year. However, within Palestinian cinema, good films tend to receive their recognition because filmmakers and audiences realize that’s their chance of success. We must support our own artists because that’s how they succeed both within Palestinian cinema and beyond.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

A volunteer-run festival is truly a labor of love. Everyone on our team truly believes in and supports Palestinian artists, and is passionate about creating a space for them to share their work. We want to ensure that Palestinian art is getting the reach it deserves, and that people in our region aren’t missing out.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

FilmFreeway has been a blessing for our festival, streamlining the process and ultimately making it easier and more accessible.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

2020 will be the tenth year of the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival. I see our festival celebrating the past decade of Palestinian art, and building a platform for the next decade. We love to push boundaries. In 2016, for example, we teamed up with Shared Studios, Mercy Corps, and Gaza Sky Geeks on an audiovisual portal that connected artists, musicians, performers, and festival attendees in DC to their peers in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. It was amazing to see people dancing, singing, and talking literally across oceans and borders. We’re all about pushing the envelope like that, and we intend on continuing that trend into our tenth annual run and beyond!

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

I can’t lie, I’m not a person who watches movies more than twice (even if I love a film). Still, at the moment, the film I’ve seen the most times in my life has to be Moonlight. I can never get enough of that movie.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film shakes you to your core.

How is the film scene in your city?

The DC film scene tends to focus on documentary filmmaking (usually political), given the fact that we are the nation’s capital. Several Hollywood productions have even shot in DC—Jackie, VEEP, and House of Cards amongst others. You see how those three productions alone deal with politics in some way, shape or form?

There is also an amazing independent film scene. Howard University alone is a pioneer in the area, with professors like Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) and Haile Gerima (Sankofa). I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some amazing filmmakers from Howard.

American University’s acclaimed film program is home to remarkable filmmakers, including the Palestinian filmmaker Najwa Najjar (Eyes of a Thief).

And, of course, I have to mention my alma mater, George Mason University. Our film program has also been pushing cutting-edge filmmakers and works to the forefront. Shout out to the amazing faculty, including Giovanna Chesler, Lisa Thrasher and the Emmy-nominated Hans Charles (Director of Photography on the Oscar-nominated 13th).

I’ve often encountered people who think that DC filmmakers are only churning out documentaries about the White House. In actuality, our artists create so much more!

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Michael Kamel is a local filmmaker and the Curator and Co-Director of the DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival. His film work often explores themes of identity, loss, and relationships. Subjectivity fuels his content, and he strives to provide a nuanced platform and voice for often unheard subjects. You can view more of his work at

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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