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Letters from Kate: An Interview with Mona Gazala

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘Letters from Kate’. How did you start, and how did you learn to make films?

As a visual artist and activist, I’ve created multiple works on Palestinian identity and erasure, in every media from sculpture to photography to performance.

I learned to make films out of a necessity to tell the stories of my research and activism. I am not technically proficient, not a “filmmaker” by trade, and I loathe the Adobe suite applications, lol. But with the advent of more user-friendly editing apps on my cell phone, I’ve been able to sufficiently put together narratives that engage a wide range of viewers.

My most successful film project to date is the video short, “Closeness to the Land,” which has had several screenings globally. Using performance and text artwork, it tells the story of my quest for an indigenous relationship with the earth - despite being a displaced Palestinian  - and having to create a proxy relationship with the Ohio countryside.


Tell us about ‘Letters from Kate’. How do you describe it?

Letters from Kate is a sort of performative found-text poetry. It began as an obsessive-compulsive urge to document each and every use of the word “Palestine” in Kathleen Kenyon’s book, “Digging Up Jericho.” As you can see in the film, they are labelled with the page number on which they can be found as well as the number of instances they’re found on a single page (labelled a,b,c, or d). My hand or finger in each image gives it a more personal/human touch. This project has taken on many iterations, sometimes as stand-alone photography and sometimes as a printed book of the images. But it didn’t feel complete without my explanation of WHY I did it, and why this particular ritual felt so important to me. So I created the narrated film to explain that part of the story.

Please tell us about your favorite filmmakers.

Some of my favorite filmmakers are Larissa Sansour, who created a suite of sci-fi based political  movies on Palestine; I was enthralled with how she used archaeology in the liberation struggle. And Jumana Manna’s “Foragers” which is about the criminalization of the indigenous practice of foraging for native plants. On a more local-to-me level, I’ve long admired the work of Cameron Granger, whose striking imagery and use of multi-channel works weaves together histories of structural racism with the beauty and strength of Black communities.

I’m also inspired by Emily Jacir’s installation artwork “Ex Libris,” which really reveals the life and meaning of books in the face of Palestinian erasure.


If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

Wow, that’s a tough question, because the ideal project is always going to be the one I’m currently working on, lol. Most of my projects are centered on my own artistic practice and are really low-budget. But it would be great to be able to hire assistants to carry and move my props or to act as goodwill ambassadors for me when I film in public places, which I often do. Having a crew makes you appear much more “legit” than “that lone weirdo with a camera.”


Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

I generally take an obsessive-compulsive tack with production, writing out a calendar trajectory with a final date in mind, and working backwards to what particular small steps I need done today to be on target with that goal; who I need to contact, what shots needs to be recorded, etc.


What was the hardest part of making ‘Letters from Kate.

Honestly the hardest part was making sure I was adding the correct images in the correct order. I mean, 89 images of fingers pointing to pages can feel redundant after a while! I had to check and re-check my source images frequently.


If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

My next work is called “Trail Markers.” It is an autobiographical film about how I ended up living in rural Darke County, Ohio, and the unlikely existence of artifacts of Palestinian history at the local museum in rural Ohio. In weaving together these two stories, I examine this kind of strange conjunction of picturesque countryside with being in the belly of a militaristic empire. As usual, there will be text artwork integrated into the story; in this case, a set of trail or road signs that bear portions of a quote by Edward Said. A work-in-progress screening of “Trail Markers” will take place at the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio) on September 5.


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