“I came to hear your voice, to hear your secrets,” says the filmmaker and narrator, addressing her homeland, Palestine, in the film that chronicles her first visit.
My Love Awaits Me by the Sea unfolds as a poetic documentary, but it is more an ode to dreams, dreamers, and the power of fiction in transcending the harsh realities of life.
The film premiered in 2013 at the Tornto International Film Festival, and had its Egypt premiere at the Ismailia International Documentay Festival, winning the Jury prize. It went on to receive four other top awards, at Brazil’s Festival Internacional de Cinema Feminino, Italy’s MedFilm Festival, Argentina’s Latin Arab Film Festival, and New York’s New Directors New Films festival.
Mais Darwazah takes us from her own story into the stories of others, talking not about politics, but about dreams.
“A portrait of a harsh place, with these small poetic moments of peace,” Darwazah tells audiences at Zawya.
Living in Jordan all her life, Mais Darwazah had only heard tales about Palestine, until a children’s book compelled her to visit, and make a film about the place.
Hassan and the sea
“I want to honour the artist and writer Hassan Hourani, whose book Hassan Fi Kol Makan ("Hassan Everywhere") was an inspiration for this film,” she says.
While Darwazah allowed herself to wander and get lost in the fictional world of Hassan, she found a bridge to Palestine.
“Hassan became like a friend to me, taking me by the hand to Palestine. The book is steeped in the realities of politics although it is for children. He helped me create a real Palestine through fiction,” Darwazah says.
She went to Palestine to find people that create an alternate reality, some of them living in a bubble that is a safe haven, others creating fiction and art, and others fight oppression by keeping a dream alive.
“Reality can break us, but there is a place in the minds of Palestinians that the occupation can’t reach,” Darwazah says.
The sea is an important element of the story, and is the subject of the opening conversation between the filmmaker and her mother.
“No one can influence it, but it influences others,” the mother says as they walk by the beach.
The sea influenced Hourani, who in turn influenced Darwazah.
On a visit to Palestine before publishing the book, Hourani left Ramallah to spend a day in Jaffa by the sea with his nephew. Swimming in an isolated place to avoid questioning from authorities, they both drowned that day.
The filmmaker felt this to be very symbolic of life in Palestine, where access to the sea is limited, a dream they harbour.
Darwazah draws a parallel between Hassan and Palestine, between dreams and the sea. In a sense Hourani’s life was taken by his own dream.
But what Hassan embodies was a spirit, a way of crossing and rising above boundaries, that the film seeks to honour through the people potrayed.
“My mother ties it together; she was a dreamer like Hassan,” Darwazah says.
Behind the dreams
Take Me Home was the title of Darwazah's first film, her graduation project in 2003 which toured film festivals. Five years later, My Love Awaits Me by the Sea is like an answer to that plea.
“I crossed the waters from Jordan to this place that was just a minute away. Although when I used to hear about it, it seemed 400 years away,” she says.
I wanted to show Palestine to my family, my friends, and all the people who don’t know her.
“I spent eight years on the film, and sadly many things didn’t change. And just when I finished the film, the war started in Syria.”
Working on the film for many years, Darwazah spent three of them writing.
As a documentary, the writing process was not a scenario, but rather a way to sort out her thoughts and pin down her emotions to find the direction for the film.
In Zawya’s description of the film, we find questions, such as “how do you return to a place that only exists in your mind?", "how do you keep fighting for life when you're surrounded by so much death?", "how can you continue believing in a dream when the outside world lives another reality?" and "how can you own your version of the truth when history has taken it from you?"
Darwazah found herself faced with an overwhelming task of untangling it.
“How can I face all that without knowing myself first? In the process I faced myself too, and like Hassan, I created Mais Fi Kol Makan ('Mais Everywhere').”
“It took me a long time to make it sound like it was your voices not mine. So you don’t hear me, but hear yourself,” Darwazah tells the audience.
With the organic filming and sometimes shaky hand held camera, we often do hear Darwazah’s voice behind the lens in conversation with the subjects she meets.
“I didn’t have time to create a relationship with the characters before filming, so it had to go instinctively. I told them the film is about a dream within us, and where it is now. And it was like I tapped into a special place with no introductions,” she says.
Throughout the film, Darwazah’s narration is sometimes accompanied by simple hand-drawn landscapes. The line that makes the horizon, the road, and the blue watercolour paint that makes the sea, are all expanding outside the square frame drawn for them.
They won’t be contained, in this simple ode to freedom and imagination.
“I invent what I want to see. I like how there’s always a way for imagination,” says Darwazah.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture