Time Interrupted in Hannah Khalil’s Scenes from 71* Years

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More than speaking to life in the shadow of digital media, the production’s fragmented structure underscores people’s experiences of time in the face of occupation. The urgency of escaping teargas at a demonstration precedes the unending boredom of waiting at a checkpoint. The delay to get on a computer at an internet café precedes the need to cram every bit of meaning into a precious Skype call. Polar extremes of time exist side-by-side, and Khalil’s structure creates an unwieldy, disjointed temporality reflecting the often-disorienting experience of occupation. As storylines disappear only to resurface later in the performance, the production creates a series of interruptions that make clear the mechanisms that Israeli forces have used to impose absurd timescales upon Palestinian life.

While the impact of colonial forces is severe, Scenes draws some comedy from the situations’ absurdity. When a young boy tells an older man that Palestine has been liberated, the man packs up his stuff, ready to return to his homeland before the boy reveals it was a prank. The moment is funny, but it underscores the duality of the Occupation as seemingly both temporary and permanent. Khalil writes that one of her influences was Elia Suleiman’s 2009 film The Time That Remains, which also centers on Palestinian experiences of time under occupation—the daily habits of living in the shadow of a tank, the repeated rituals of hope and despair, and the dark humor emerging from it all. The film’s title references not only the time that remains in each human life but the time that remains until Palestinians gain sovereignty. How can Palestinians conceive of time as something more than waiting?

Scenes makes much of this motif of waiting in a series of scenes at a checkpoint. In the first, a food vendor begs an IDF soldier to let his car through before his goods spoil; the imposed timescale of occupation conflicts with the natural timescale of food’s perishability. In a second, characters simply wait wordlessly, and the audience experiences the tedium along with the characters. In a third, a man starts singing and gets the whole line to join in but only until an Israeli soldier silences the crowd for being too unruly.

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