Beirut-based Palestinian documentary filmmaker Mai Masri screened her first feature film, 3000 Nights (3000 Layla) at Columbia University, for its New York premiere.
Inspired by the true story of a young Palestinian mother who gave birth to her child in an Israeli prison, 3000 Nights is a story about resilience and the imagination in a genre -- the prison genre-- that has rarely dealt with women's experiences, let alone Palestinian women's. Set in Nablus in 1980, Masri draws on realities she has both experienced first hand and explored in her earlier documentary work. Shot in a real prison in a cinema verite style with handheld cameras, the film has a raw documentary edge that resonates with the reality it portrays. What is it like to raise a child behind bars? How do women survive, educate each other, suspect and support each other in prison? What happens in this unique situation in which Palestinian political prisoners mix with Israeli women incarcerated on criminal charges?
Screened first at the BFI London Film Festival and recently at festivals in Toronto, Ramallah and Geneva, 3000 Nights has been described as "a poetic, compelling and raw allegory for freedom under occupation." Prison is a widespread collective experience for Palestinians, but not only Palestinians. The film just received the Young Jury Prize at the International Film Festival on Human Rights in Geneva.
Masri's reputation as a leading Palestinian documentary filmmaker rests on her award-winning films that include Beirut Diaries, Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, Children of Shatila, Children of Fire, Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon and several films made with Jean Chamoun including Suspended Time.
There was a Master Class with Mai Masri the following evening. In the Master Class, open to all students and faculty, Mai Masri discussed her experiences and approach to filmmaking, showed clips from her films, and spoke with Mira Nair about moving from documentary to fiction and about women directors. Mira Nair began in documentary but has gone on to make many award-winning feature films including Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, The Namesake, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Center for Justice
Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality
Middle East Institute
Columbia School of the Arts