It's not everyday that the reality of imprisoned Palestinian women's lives gets as much attention as "3000 Nights" has, which makes the film all the more incredible. Not only did it premiere to resounding acclaim at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, the film has continued to surprise and move audiences at big festivals and small cinemas around the world ever since.
Prominent Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri's feature debut is a harrowing tale about a young Palestinian woman torn from her life and wrongfully placed in a high-security Israeli prison, finding herself pregnant and serving an eight-year sentence for a crime she didn't commit.
Against all odds, Layal has her child and raises him behind bars, while fighting every day of his life to protect them both from the gruesome realities of an institution where Palestinian political prisoners are incarcerated side by side with Israeli criminal inmates.
It's a story so dramatically heroic, many people might have a hard time believing that it's anything other than fiction. However, it is in fact a reality many Palestinians will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
"The main inspiration was a true story, I met a Palestinian woman who had had a child in an Israeli prison and I was really shocked and amazed by how she gave birth in chains and then raised her child in prison, in a community of Palestinian women prisoners," Masri told StepFeed.
"I've always been interested in the theme of prison because it's such a powerful experience for most Palestinians, but having heard this particular story, it made me even more convinced that this was a story that had to be told."
Masri, a veteran documentary filmmaker, spent months interviewing Palestinian women who had their children in Israeli prisons. It was a process that revealed truths that ranged from the interesting, like how these women turned prison into "a learning experience" for their children, to the blatantly shocking, like "the fact that they gave birth in chains."
The very fact that the film was inspired by true stories of real Palestinian women is what posed the biggest challenge for Masri, who felt a lot of pressure to do them justice.
"To really capture the experience and its depth, to go deep into the story and on different levels, I felt a huge responsibility while writing and filming. I felt I owed it to myself and to the story I was telling, this is a story that is everyone's story, prison, I can't deal lightly with it," Masri said.
The Palestinian director believes that prison is a powerful metaphor for the condition of Palestinian people, most of which, whether they're living in the occupied territories, as refugees or in exile, experience a "prison-like feeling of living with boundaries and sieges."
However, despite its political undertones, it was very important to Masri to make "3000 Nights" a story in which the human dimension is the most dominant.
"For me, it's a story of a mother raising her child behind bars. What I felt was important was to show how she tried to recreate a world for a child who's never seen the outside world and to create the semblance of some kind of normality, " Masri said.
"These are powerful tools, these are human elements. This is something that can touch people very deeply and to me, that's much more important than giving facts or pushing only the political side, but they do complement each other, there's no contradiction whatsoever."
Masri also believes that Palestinians of all ages recreate the Palestine they no longer have or never even witnessed in their imaginations, in a way that is unique to each of them and preserves their identity.
For Masri, whose award-winning films have done an excellent job at capturing the Palestinian struggle, cinema is the most powerful way to recreate Palestine. "3000 Nights" is arguably the perfect representation of her Palestine.
“My Palestine is a Palestine where people speak out, they act, they refuse to be oppressed, they refuse to be defeated. My Palestine is a Palestine where people come together, there’s a resilience, they resist and have hope. The film is about that, it’s a message of hope, but hope comes though resilience and resistance, it doesn’t just fall in your lap, you have to fight for it," Masri said.
"It’s not an idealistic picture necessarily, some people might have that, of the ancient Palestine with orange groves and stuff, that’s not my image. My image is one of a people who are resisting in every form, and I believe very strongly in that, at a time when resistance is considered a taboo," she added.
It is a belief Masri hopes reaches audiences in the Arab World, where she said she has seen a "huge interest" in the film. The opening screening of "3000 Nights" at the 2016 Luxor Arab and European Film Festival left the audience thanking Masri for "reminding us of Palestine," while showings in Palestinian theaters left former Palestinian prisoners reaching out to the filmmaker.
"3000 Nights" has also just been released in Jordanian theaters by Cairo and Abu Dhabi-based distributor Mad Solutions and is set for upcoming theater releases in the UAE and Kuwait in early April, Egypt in late April and Lebanon in early May.
Ultimately, reminding the Arab audience of Palestine – again – is what Masri said is more important to her than anything else.
"If I can bring Palestine back to the forefront and back to the center of their hearts and minds, like it should be, that for me is the biggest achievement. When you bring it to them, they’ll remember and they’ll feel it again.”