A Syrian filmmaker's haunting record of his time in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps
In 1980, Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas traveled to Lebanon to film a documentary of interviews with Palestinians of the refugee camps around Beirut about their dreams. The Dream: A Diary of the Film is Malas’s haunting chronicle of his immersion in the life of the camps, including Shatila, Burj al-Barajneh, Nahr al-Bared, and Ein al-Helweh. It also describes the filmmaking process, from the research stage to the film’s unofficial release, in Shatila Camp, before it reached a global audience. In vivid and poetic detail, Malas provides a snapshot of Palestinian refugees at a critical juncture of Lebanon’s bloody civil war, and at the height of the PLO’s power in Lebanon before the 1982 Israeli invasion and the PLO’s subsequent expulsion. Malas probes his subjects’ dreams and existential fears with an artist’s acute sensitivity, revealing the extent to which the wounds and contingencies of Palestinian statelessness are woven into the tapestry of a fragmented Arab nationalism. Although he halted his work on the film in 1982, following the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, he completed it in 1987, turning 400 interviews into 23 dreams and 45 minutes of screen time. Both diary and film present these people somewhere between present and past tense, but they are preserved forever in the word, magnetic tape, and now in digital code. The Dream is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Palestinians in the modern Middle East, and for students and scholars of Arab filmmaking, politics, and literature.
Mohammad Malas was born in 1945 in Quneitra, Syria, and studied filmmaking at the Moscow Film Institute (VGIK). He is the director of twelve films and has been a key figure of Syrian auteur-cinema for the past twenty years. Much of his work explores the effects of the political on the fabric of personal and collective identities in the Arab world. Samirah Alkassim is an independent film scholar and program and communications director for the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, Washington DC. She was formerly director of the film program at the American University in Cairo.