“Palestinians don’t get enough chances to tell their stories” Mai Masri


By Omkar Naik

“This is definitely one of the best screenings I’ve had anywhere in the world,” said a happy Mai Masri, about her International Film Festival of India debut with ‘3000 Nights’ (2015). Though the Palestinian-American filmmaker has made eight documentaries over the past two decades, this is her first fiction feature.
‘3000 Nights’ is the story of Layal, a young Palestinian schoolteacher, who is arrested on false allegations of terrorism, and sentenced to years of rigorous imprisonment in a high-security women’s prison in Israel, where political prisoners are jailed alongside criminals. Then it emerges she is pregnant. The prison director pressures her to abort the child, and also to spy on the other inmates. Resilient, rebellious, and still shackled, Layal is determined to bring her baby to life. At the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie was praised as “a story of motherhood in the most dire circumstances. ‘3000 Nights’ makes a prison into a metaphor for Palestine under occupation, exploring how the institution shapes the complicated interplay of resilience, empathy, and psychological manipulation.”
Masri has focused on Palestine and the Middle East in all of her work.  She graduated from San Francisco State University in 1981, then returned to her hometown of Beirut to begin making films.
She told The Peacock, “it’s been decades, and my documentaries are still showcased in different places. Films are a great medium to create awareness. They can change at least some people, if not the world.”
The director said, “Palestinians don’t get enough chances to tell their stories. Cinema is one medium that puts their struggle on the map in a humane way.” But ‘3000 Nights’ is meant to have universal appeal (the film is in the international competition section of IFFI 2015),  “the film is based on real stories and events, and is set in the 80’s which really was the beginning of the revolution. It was shot in an actual prison location, and most of the cast included women who felt strongly about the issues, as they themselves had undergone through some prison experience personally. It was good to have them with us, and it worked very well. I feel these women embody a lot of hope in such a situation of oppression.”
The film’s idea came about through interviews Masri did with women prisoners, including many who  delivered children during the time they were incarcerated. She worked on the idea for seven years, with the objective of staying true to the reality of the prisoners’ stories, and avoiding exaggeration or melodrama.
Masri said there is hardly any film industry in Palestine. “There are a few venues, but there are very few screenings going on because of the occupation by Israel. There are arrests. There is brutality. People do try to lead as much of a normal life as they can, but it is certainly very difficult, and it’s not at all like India of course.” But, “it is important to talk about what you feel in these circumstances in spite of the imposed limitations.”

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