In 2006, Hadeel Assali attended a programming meeting for Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), a non-profit organization in Houston that strives to address social issues through the arts. The group wanted to do something to highlight the issues in Lebanon and Palestine, and Hadeel suggested a film festival after being inspired by friends in Chicago who started a Palestinian film festival there. After canvassing the local community for donations and volunteers, the Houston Palestine Film Festival’s (HPFF) kicked off its first season in 2007. “We walked into the first night of the first Houston Palestine Film Festival expecting 50-100 people; instead we found a packed house of nearly 300 every night of the festival. This sent us a clear message that the Houston Palestine Film Festival (HPFF) is needed and each year that message is reaffirmed,” said Assali.
By creating an avenue for showcasing films about Palestine as well as films by Palestinian directors, the Film Festival “brings and honest and independent view of Palestine and its diaspora’s society, culture, and political travails through the art of film. . . . A major goal of the Festival is to directly expose our local community to the perspective of artists as a first step toward circumventing the many government and media filters that pollute our understanding of Palestine and the wider region.”
Hadeel stated in an interview with Jackson Allers that, “the mainstream media has affected our psyche in a very negative way—to the point that many are even ashamed of admitting they are Palestinian because of the constant stereotypes of us as either terrorists or helpless victims.” In order to break this cycle of stereotyping Palestinians, HPFF hopes to provide an outlet for a different Palestinian image. Hadeel believes that through HPFF, “audiences will see who we truly are and hear our stories and perspectives.”
In 2009, the Houston Palestine Film Festival won the Houston Press’s Best Film Festival in Houston. In 2010, it won the audience award for Best Local Film Festival.
Quotes from former board members:
Hadeel Assali, founder: “The elders have told us that we have given them hope that the story of Palestine will not die with them, that our generation will keep it alive.”
Claudia Baba, former board member: “What I appreciate and just really respect about the HPFF movement is that it’s an annual event and it’s something that the community looks forward to. It not only brings Palestine to Houston … but it works with the community and other organizations. That does so much for us as Palestinians because you’ve become a staple in the city. The city knows you. Other non-profits know you. The Museum of Fine Arts knows you. … Art is softer than politics.”
Brigitte Zabak,former board member: ”I think there is a natural tendency for Palestinians to want to fight for peace and justice.” …. “Awareness through the arts is probably my favorite way to educate and engage with others.”
 Jackson Allers, “Profile: Hadeel Assali co-founder of Houston Palestine Film Festival,” Beats and Breath, June 19, 2010, jacksonallers.wordpress.com.