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Interview with filmmaker Mais Darwazah: 'The dream is the reality'

Nov. 27, 2013 8:36 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 23, 2013 3:42 P.M.)
By: Graham Liddell
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A poetic blend of interviews, storytelling, handheld camerawork, and live drawing and painting, the 2013 documentary "My Love Awaits Me by the Sea" simultaneously presents a stark travelogue and a utopian dreamworld.

In the film, director Mais Darwazah, a Palestinian refugee living in Jordan, documents her first-ever visit to her homeland.

Darwazah's film is inspired by the work of Hasan Hourani, a Palestinian artist who wrote the fantastical children's book "Hasan is Everywhere," in which he casts himself as a traveler boy free from the confines of society, the laws of nature, and the Israeli occupation. Though typically barred by Israel from accessing the Mediterranean shore, in August 2003, Hourani was able to visit Jaffa. On the beach, he saw his nephew struggling in the water and dived in to save him. Neither could swim, and both of them drowned.

In her film, Darwazah channels Hourani, becoming a traveler à la "Hasan is Everywhere," allowing herself to dream while at the same time making viewers acutely aware of harsh Palestinian realities.

Below is the edited transcript of a conversation with Darwazah.

Ma'an News Agency: Can you talk a bit about the "Kings of Jerusalem" scene, where you interview those three young men?

Mais Darwazah: Obviously I had in mind that I wanted to shoot in Jerusalem, and to interview young men in Jerusalem who for me represent a kind of suffocation. So when I met Samer - the guy in the yellow T-shirt - what I found phenomenal, for example, was that he looks very streetwise -

MNA: The one on the right with the cigarette?

MD: Yeah. You know, shaved head, skinhead - and then when he starts talking for me he makes so much sense. So much sense.

MNA: So articulate.

MD: He was so calm and so composed. And I found that contrast between this kind of hardness of the street and this spot-on logic unbelievable. So I called Samer and I said, "Samer, listen, I'm making a film, and my film is about" - for each character I said something that I felt I could connect with them on. I said, "I want to make a film about how our dream of Palestine is surviving, and how we are living in a reality that doesn't at all resemble us." And I said, "Would you be interested?" and he said yes.

MNA: There's that point where Samer talks about how the Israeli soldier in the Al-Aqsa compound is so friendly and nice, and he wants the Palestinians to act like him being there is normal. And Samer says no, I'd rather have a soldier beat me or something in order to remind me of what's going on. I thought that was so striking.

MD: Yeah. Well, it's actually not "remind me," you know? You have to be careful with that. Samer knows he's occupied. The soldier needs to remind himself of why he's there. Samer knows why this guy's there. It's the other way around. The soldier wants to kind of shake hands and kiss and make up when there's no rights given back - nothing. No, hold on. You can't steal my land, kick me out, kill me, and then shake my hand.

the Jerusalem Guy 2 from Mais Darwazah on Vimeo.

MNA: Talk a little bit about about Nael's character.

MD: I met Nael in Amman, and he said that he lived in Nazereth. And I had been to Nazareth on my first research trip, and I had been to 1948 areas. And I realized when I went that I couldn't stand, actually, the fact you had to live with your occupier - it's so much pressure. The people on the inside of '48 are forced to live with the occupier like it's normal! Nael told me he lived in Nazareth, and then I said, "I don’t know how you can stand living with the Israelis. It's so suffocating." And he looked me straight in the eye and he said, "Yeah, I don't leave the house." You know, in the film, Nael doesn't say much, but he says for me one of the most important things. He says, "It's very difficult to live with your occupier. The encounters are not very pleasant."

MNA: So that's a recurring theme in the film, the fact that it's difficult to live with your occupier. And another is this mixture of dreams and reality. In fact there's even a line where someone says, "The dream is the reality." Do you think that applies to the Palestinian condition at large?

MD: This idea of "the dream is the reality" is obviously very inspired by Hasan's work. Because even though he's talking about a very fantastical, imaginary world in "Hasan is Everywhere," there's a very strong connotation of the real. Even though he's presenting the total fantastic. Also, I think Mahmoud Darwish sometimes spoke of Palestine as his lover. So Palestine, being this vague place which we haven't reached, becomes the same as the idea of a lover you dream of. You dream of a utopian lover like you dream of your utopian homeland.

MNA: But at the same time the dreams are - it's not like the dreams are so huge, right? It's like Nael says. The dreams are, you know, "I want to spend a day at the beach," or, "I want to grow some orange trees." They're not such lofty dreams - they're simple.

MD: I'm now forbidden to go to Palestine. Can you explain to me why someone my age who is Palestinian is not allowed to visit their home, and not allowed to live in it? Can you explain? Our dreams today are very small dreams. It's not like I want to go to space, or buy a Ferrari. The dreams are everyday-living things.

Nael from Mais Darwazah on Vimeo.

MNA: When you read Hasan's work for the voiceovers, I feel sort of like you're channeling him. It's like you're this new Hasan, this new traveler.

MD: When Hasan wrote this - I don't know, I never met Hasan - but I would think, when he chose to call himself Hasan the Traveler, I think he knew that the travel reflects each and every Arab young person living today who is surrounded by boundaries and borders and walls. I think when Hasan wrote, he didn't write only about himself. Hasan lived the Arab World, he lived Palestine, he knew what he was deprived of, and he talked about his dreams. And a lot of people shared those dreams. I mean, why, when Hasan passed away in Jaffa - why is it that so many people were affected by his death? I found that interesting. Hasan went to spend one day by the sea in Jaffa, just to stand, calmly. Not aggressive, no fighting, nothing. And then he drowned. So he went for five minutes to breathe, to take a break. And the sea stole him, immediately.

MNA: How is this film different from other Palestinian films or other depictions of Palestinians?

MD: There is something different about this film. The Palestinian is strong. He's beautiful. He's not beaten, meaning he didn't lose the battle. And at the same time, what is the image you're getting of the Israeli? Uncivilized. The Israelis, they want to keep one image: that Palestinians are weak. They're beaten. They're occupied. They're helpless. The Israeli is attractive. He's strong. He's powerful. He's unbeatable, you know? So these are the images. I think that once you have a film that's not saying that, you know, that's saying the opposite, that says the Israeli is weak, that Zionism is out of style - it might make some people angry.

"My Love Awaits Me by the Sea" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. In December, it will be screening at the Dubai International Film Festival.
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