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Film Review: "Al Helm"


The Witness Palestine film series draws attention to the human rights issues raised by the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine; the series explores stories of the people directly affected by the violence and turmoil. In "Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine" director Connie Field chronicles an American gospel group's 2011 trip to the West Bank in order to perform an original theater production about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. alongside actors from the Palestinian National Theater. The hope of both parties is to encourage Palestinian audiences to see the parallels between King's fight for civil rights and their own experiences, hopefully leading citizens to take up nonviolent civil disobedience.

Field's cameras capture the gradual process of these very different groups coming together, and their collaboration is the most compelling sections of the film. After the first full performance, there's a tiff between the play's American writer and Palestinian director over changes made to the play's ending, and cast and crew sit down to debate the alterations. This leads to a fascinating discussion about how our culture leads us to absorb certain material differently. Through these interactions, we learn the true consequences of living in a culture that knows nothing but upheaval. There's sadness and heartbreak, but "Al Helm" is ultimately hopeful, capturing the power of art to connect, educate, inspire, and even foster change.