By Mai Masri
For Palestinian filmmakers like myself, cinema has become a way of re-creating Palestine and making sense of our uprooted lives and disrupted narratives. I believe that all Palestinians have an “imaginary” Palestine in their heads that they construct like a film and watch over and over. It is what safeguards their identity and gives them the strength and hope to withstand injustice and despair.
I have lived my life through the camera lens, filming the people and places that I feel most passionate about. My films have empowered me and given me a sense of control over my own destiny.
The people I have filmed resemble me, and the films I have made are episodes in my real life. They have had a profound effect on the formation of my identity as a person and filmmaker. To me, film is about unveiling a world that is composed of many magical layers. It is the art of seeing through other people’s eyes, discovering and bringing out the poetry in everyday life.
I believe that there is a strong connection between memory, imagination, and identity. The young generations construct their sense of identity from their everyday experiences in exile or under Israeli occupation. They also draw from their imagination, which is nurtured by the stories that they hear from their grandparents, many of whom were dispossessed from their homes in Palestine in 1948. I am interested in portraying what these children consider as “home” and how they re-construct their lack of a home. I am also interested in understanding how their imaginary Palestine contrasts with their everyday lives in the refugee camps. For the third generation of the Nakba, Palestine is the memory that nourishes their imagination and the dream that they weave and re-construct as an alternative to the humiliation and deprivation of the camps of exile.
This is particularly true in Palestinian children. I am fascinated by their ability to transcend the overwhelming difficulties of their everyday lives through play, imagination, and dream. Their creativity speaks to my own subconscious world and opens new horizons in my cinematic journey.
Cinema can re-create an imaginary Palestine but it can never replace a real Palestine that consists of land, rights, and freedom for millions of dispossessed Palestinians. In the meantime, our cinematic Palestine can play a powerful role in preserving and developing Palestinian identity and in nurturing the personal and collective dream of a real Palestine.
The camera is like a magic lantern that we embrace to make our dreams come true. It is the tool we use to reclaim our existence, memory, and humanity. It is our way of saying that we were here and are here to stay - our way of breaking through the siege and transcending boundaries. It is the mirror we hold up to our society to challenge and criticise what we see as wrong. It is our cry against the divisions, stagnation, and ugliness that are threatening our people. It is the weapon we carry to defend ourselves and make our voices heard.
Mai Masri is a Palestinian filmmaker who has directed several films that have won over 60 international prizes and have been broadcast on more than 100 television stations worldwide. Her most recent films include 33 DAYS (2007), which received a Special Tribute at Al-Kassaba Film Festival, Ramallah; BEIRUT DIARIES: Truth, Lies and Videos (2006) Best Documentary at Asia Pacific Screen Awards in Australia and Institut du Monde Arabe film festival in Paris. She also directed FRONTIERS OF DREAMS AND FEARS (2001), CHILDREN OF SHATILA (1998), CHILDREN OF FIRE (1990), A WOMAN OF HER TIME (1996), and co-directed with her husband, filmmaker Jean Khalil Chamoun: SUSPENDED DREAMS (1992), WAR GENERATION-BEIRUT (1989), WILDFLOWERS (1986) and UNDER THE RUBBLE.