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The Lady Hijacker

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 16, 2007 4:10PM

Screening as part of the Sixth Chicago Palestine Film Festival, Leila Khaled, Hijacker is a 58-minute documentary which examines the life of Leila Khaled; as a member of the PFLP she participated in two airplane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. As the first female hijacker, she occupies a disquieting position at the crossroads between feminism and terrorism. She's inspired both revulsion and admiration (songwriter Julian Cope, who composed the song "Like Leila Khaled Said," has remarked that "she was really one of the most beautiful girls in the whole world.")

2007_4Hijacker_Leila_Khaled.jpgFilmmaker Lina Makboul, who was raised by Palestinian parents in Sweden, also narrates the film. As a teenager, Leila was her hero, her bravery and beauty making her an ultimate role model for a young girl. As an adult however she found herself much more ambivalent, questioning Leila's tactics as a way to truly advance the cause of a free Palestine. In the film she contacts Leila and visits her in Palestine for several rounds of on-camera interviews. Now in her early 60's, she lives a rather ordinary life, working at the offices of the PNC and doting on her children. Footage of Leila vacuuming the carpet in her house and presiding over the family meal alternates with news images of the hijackings. The juxtaposition of the young, beautiful Leila (shown in one poster side-by-side with Che Guevera) in military garb with the older, chain-smoking Leila, sitting at a table examining documents with the aid of reading glasses, is both darkly funny and sad. Even in the face of Makboul's prickly, challenging questions, Leila remains unrepentant. The years might have slowed her down, but she has not mellowed.

The film is the perfect length, offering a concise portrait without oversimplifying her. The vintage news footage is priceless. Despite the fact that this is, after all, a film about hijacking, it makes us slightly wistful for the days when air travel seemed both simpler and somehow more exciting. Contradictions like these are what make Leila Khaled, Hijacker such an interesting film.

The last showing is tonight at 6 at the Siskel Film Center. It's preceded by the short film Make a Wish. More info here.