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Filmmaker Mai Masri from Beirut about "3000 NIGHTS": "A film that gives strength and hope"

On December 3, 3000 NIGHTS will be shown in Hoeilaart. The 2015 film is about the impact of the violent occupation of Palestine by Israel, which is now dragging on for almost a lifetime. Film maker Mai Masri (1959) received numerous international prizes for her work. The proceeds from ticket sales go entirely to health projects for the Palestinian population supported by Viva Salud.

I want to show viewers the humanity and resilience of the Palestinian people and especially Palestinian women who have played a major role in the struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation.

Rein van Gisteren asked six questions to the filmmaker who lives in the Lebanese capital Beirut. He has worked at Viva Salud and is now chairman of the Municipal Advisory Council for Development Cooperation in Hoeilaart, which organizes the film screening.

Synopsis 3000 NIGHTS

Palestinian schoolteacher Layal is falsely accused of assisting with a terrorist action. She ends up in an Israeli prison, appears to be pregnant but does not want an abortion under any circumstances. Despite the brutal detention conditions, she and her cell mates take care of her son Nour. Are the detainees revolting against the brutal regime? A film about love and hope.

You wrote that cinema is a way to re-create Palestine and to be able to understand uprooted lives and disturbed stories. “I believe that all Palestinians have constructed an 'imaginary' Palestine in their heads - as if it was a film. That image ensures that their identity is guarded and gives them the strength and hope to resist injustice and despair. ”Are Palestinians themselves the most important reason to make 3000 NIGHTS? (Or are European viewers also your audience?)

For Palestinians living in exile or under Israeli occupation, images and imagination play a powerful role in reinforcing identity and safeguarding memory. The injustice of being uprooted from Palestine in 1948 and the suffering they have endured as refugees is what drives them to hold onto the image and narrative of "Palestine" in their collective psyche. This is what gives them hope and determination to return  to their homeland.

I made 3000 Nights with both the Palestinian and international audiences in mind. My main goal was to portray a true story of a young Palestinian mother who is wrongfully imprisoned and forced to raise her child inside an Israeli prison. My first screening was for Palestinian viewers many of whom were former political prisoners themselves. It was important that they feel that this film was true to their story. I also wanted to reach an international audience and to show them the humanity and resilience of the Palestinians as well as the injustice they are suffering. Prison is a metaphor for the condition of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. Over one million Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1948, many of them women and children. The film attempts to put a human face on this experience and make it relevant to anyone around the world. 

There is relatively little dialogue in your film, many scenes speak for themselves. The silence allows the viewer to dream about freedom, the importance of getting a grip on your own life, stopping systematic humiliation, the desire for a home…. You have never been able to live in Palestine. If I empathize, traveling to Palestine for you will feel like "coming back." Can you say a little more about that?

I wanted the film to have a powerful visual impact. I had the opportunity to shoot in an old abandoned prison which provided a powerful setting for the actors several of whom were either former prisoners themselves or had close family members who were imprisoned in Israeli prisons.  I wanted to give it a raw documentary feeling. Many of the scenes were shot through the bars to give the viewers the feeling of being trapped inside a cage. In one of the close ups we see the eye of the young mother (Layal) with the prison bars reflected inside the pupil as if it is a mirror into her soul.  In another shot, we see the transformation of a wooden bird in the hands of her child into a real bird. We see the drawings she makes on the walls for her child who has never seen the outside world. These images add a poetic dimension and are mostly without dialogue.  I used very little music, the soundtrack consists of layers of prison sounds such as locks, chains, footsteps, metal doors opening and closing. The moments of silence are important because they allow us to imagine and see beyond the immediate reality. Imagination for the prisoners is a powerful tool of freedom.

I have lived outside of Palestine for most of my life. While growing up in Beirut, my sense of identity and belonging to Palestine was formed by a combination of upbringing, involvement in the student political movement and my frequent visits to the Palestinian refugee camps and in particular Shatila. When Shatila camp came under Israeli bombardment in the seventies, it triggered in me a profound feeling of injustice and urge to speak out. This was one of the major reasons I chose to become a filmmaker. 

I made my first film with my late husband Jean Chamoun during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut in 1982.  This experience had a profound effect on me both as a person and filmmaker. This was was further reinforced by the films I made in the refugee camps.

The second big impact on my life was the first time I went back to Palestine in 1988 during the intifada (uprising). Till then "Palestine" was an idealized image in my imagination, suddenly it materialized into a homeland and a people. 

When I arrived in my hometown Nablus for the first time, I felt that I was coming home. It was at the height of the uprising and Nablus was under siege and curfew. The Israeli army had killed several young people, one of whom was my uncle's neighbor. The soldiers had shut down the entrances to the city so no one could come in or out but I managed sneak in clandestinely with a small crew and most of the filming was done secretly. The camera empowered me and anchored my sense of belonging. Through the images I took I felt that I was reclaiming the places that had been stolen from me. This film, "Children of Fire" was a turning point for me.

How do Palestinians maintain contact when you are in the diaspora? And how do you and your countrymen experience their shared culture in a foreign environment?

The Palestinian diaspora is one of the most educated communities in the Arab world and has played a major economic and cultural role in the countries of the region. Many Palestinians have excelled in the fields of business, education and the arts however, Palestinian refugees are forbidden from returning to Palestine even for a visit. Over two million Palestinian refugees live in squalid refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Despite their miserable conditions they have managed to hold onto their identity and pass memory on from generation to generation. They have maintained their culture through music, dance, literature, food and their unique Palestinian dialect. 

One of the major ways they maintain contact with each other and with their relatives in Palestine is through the internet. When south Lebanon was liberated in 2000, Palestinians refugees poured to the border to get a glimpse of their homeland and to greet their relatives across the barbed wire. I documented these moving and historic scenes in a film I made in 2000 called "Frontiers of Dreams and Fears."

What is the most important thing you want to give to the 3000 NIGHTS viewer?

I want to show viewers the humanity and resilience of the Palestinian people and especially Palestinian women who have played a major role in the struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation.

3,000 NIGHTS is dedicated to Jean, Nour and Hana. Do you want to say why?

I dedicated 3000 Nights to my late husband, filmmaker Jean Chamoun as a tribute to our cinematic journey together and to his lifetime commitment to social and political justice which is an inspiration to our daughters Nour and Hana.

What can we, as Belgian and European, do to help the Palestinian people regain their right to self-determination?

There are many ways of supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination. The most immediate way is to call for the implementation of international law and UN resolutions calling for an end to Israeli occupation. In the lack of implementation of these resolutions, ordinary European citizens can follow the highly effective South African anti-apartheid model of boycotting Israeli political, cultural and economic institutions and products. They can also  join Belgian and European support groups that organize special awareness visits to Palestine and solidarity campaigns such as participation in olive harvesting in the villages that often come under attack by hostile Israeli armed settlers.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Date: Tuesday 3 December 2019

Venue: GC Felix Sohie, Gemeenteplein 39, 1560 Hoeilaart

Fee: €5 at the entrance or reservation by e-mail: vlaanderveld@gmail.com

Watch the trailer

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