In pursuit of dreams
Among an impressive array of Palestinian films screening at the Toronto International Film Festival is My Love Awaits Me by the Sea, the first feature-length documentary from Mais Darwazah. Having discovered the work of the Palestinian artist and poet Hasan Hourani through his children's book Hasan Is Everywhere, Darwazah - of Palestinian heritage but born and raised in Jordan - falls in love with the man who came to symbolise the dreams of the occupied Palestinians. On learning that Hourani died a few years earlier after drowning in the sea of Jaffa, having crossed the "Green Line" from his home in Ramallah for a day of escape from the West Bank, Darwazah chooses to follow the lover she would never meet, making her first journey to her homeland.
When you first discovered Hasan Hourani, did you know what it would lead to?
Not at all, but I knew that I had stumbled upon something that I couldn't ignore and was immediately fixated. I knew instantly that I was going to make a film, but I didn't know that it was going to be a film that would take this structure and I didn't know what my fixation on him meant as a metaphor. It wasn't all sorted in my head. That took some time for me. He's not just any artist, he's Palestinian. He's Hasan the dreamer and this world didn't really fit dreamers. Initially it was the poetry that I read, which made me stop and realise that I was reading something that made me feel very comfortable, it was like a tranquilliser. It was so tranquil, so peaceful that it immediately juxtaposed the occupation and the hardness of where we live.
Does he reference the occupation?
Very intelligently. His book is a children's book, so it's almost like The Little Prince. So there is reference to politics and that's the way Hasan talked about the good and the evil, in a way. His book is called Hasan Is Everywhere, which means someone is very free and very alive. But you immediately realise that you're not free and not alive.
Was the Palestine you visited the same as Hourani described?
In Hasan's books he's neither Palestine nor anything, neither boy nor girl. He's really free of gender, nationality and borders. But I can reference Palestine from my own reading from the time in which Hasan wrote this. I think if Palestine wasn't in this situation, this book would have come out very differently. What I basically went out to search for in this documentary was how dreams are sustainable and how they're alive or not alive and how they're kept, because today, when you say I want to have my homeland or I want to move from A to B, it is a dream, but what sustains this dream: is it belief or imagination?
At the start you ask the question: 'How do you return to a place that has existed only in your mind?' Do you think by the end you had answered that?
Yeah, I felt like I did. It never leaves the mind. The thing is, it's a very personal conclusion, but for me, the reason why I started this journey with Hasan was there was a point when I stopped believing in the dream and I became more pragmatic. And then slowly when you stop believing in a utopian world or you stop believing in utopia - for me, personally, that started to kill me inside over the years. When you don't see something brighter or a better possibility, then you start dying. So basically the answer for me is that it always exists in your mind. If you desire something and when you get to that desired point, then the desire disappears. So there's always going to be another desire and another and another dream. So even if we got Palestine, there'll be some other dreams. So the place doesn't die and neither does the dream, it just grows and changes and takes new forms.
. My Love Awaits Me by the Sea screens in Toronto on Saturday