Documentary showcases journalists’ lives in Palestine

Conflicts that divide the Palestinian region and its people were showcased in a film screening and a question-and-answer session with filmmaker Matt Sienkiewicz Monday evening.

The documentary film “Live from Bethlehem” tells the stories of three journalists and the struggles they faced trying to produce news in a region torn by war and occupation, Sienkiewicz said.

The film followed the Ma’an News Agency over a one-year span and narrated the daily challenges that news makers in the region faced.

According to its website, the Ma’an News Agency is the main independent news source in the Palestinian territories.

“I think we have a stereotype of Middle Eastern media which suggests that they have problems with objectivity or other things, and this isn’t true,” he said. “This is not my experience at all. But there are challenges that need to be addressed, and that’s kind of what the film tries to draw out.”

The film showed the limitations the news agency faced, such as poor-quality equipment and lack of funding. Sienkiewicz said, however, that more dangerous obstacles included political pressures and threats of violence.

“There are always complications politically, but this a very palpable and potentially violent kind of interference that does come,” Sienkiewicz said. “So in addition to dealing with all the technical aspects, there is also this really complex political situation.”

Amber Watts, assistant professor in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media, said she hoped the film would give students a more balanced view of the Palestinian region and how news is made.

“The Middle East is a very politically contentious area, and in the U.S., we don’t necessarily know that much about it,” Watts said. “So when we think of people in Palestine, we think of them as either victims or terrorists basically. And what’s great about this film is it shows that they’re people, and it humanizes the struggle that we don’t really think of in that kind of way.”

More obstacles surfaced in the situations the journalists faced personally. During the film, viewers saw the individual struggles of photographer Fadi Tadas and news correspondent Amira Hanania.

Viewers heard Tadas tell how he never left for work without saying goodbye to his family. He explained that every time he went to cover the news, he never knew if he would come back alive.

Hanania showed similar strain as she sat on stone steps with her head held in her hands. She said in the film that she received a phone call from her boss telling her he could not pay her because the agency had not received enough funding.

Allison Schorr, a senior strategic communications major, said the film led her to realize how regional restrictions and conflict made news coverage in the Middle East difficult.

“It was very interesting to see because it was very personal and relatively in depth, and it still covered a variety of topics,” Schorr said.

After the film ended, viewers asked Sienkiewicz questions about the Palestinian region, the making of the film and where the film’s characters are now.

Sienkiewicz said he tried to always give viewers a background of the Palestinian region’s geography and the political conflicts because many American students did not know that much about it.

“It’s both a challenging and rewarding process,” he said. “It’s a controversial topic, and it’s something that people bring very, very strong opinions to. And so I feel my job is to educate, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”