This is a powerful addition to the growing body of Palestinian films. It seems that previously it has only been featured at the London Film Festival in 2015 and it has not been certificated by the BBFC. Now the Showroom in Sheffield, working with other exhibitors and some local Palestinian support groups, has made the film more widely available. I saw the film at the Hyde Park Picture House, supported by Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. The film is in colour and the dialogue is in both Arabic and Hebrew [and possibly some French] with English subtitles. The film is almost entirely shot within the confines of a prison. It was filmed in Jordan, unlike some of the recent titles produced in the occupied West Bank: the subject matter would have made that difficult.
The film opens in a van where blindfolded Palestinian prisoners are being taken to an Israeli jail. This is a suitably dark, noir sequence. An onscreen title informs us that it is 1980. Among the prisoner is Layal (English variant Layla – Maisa Abd Elhadi). She has been arrested on the charge of helping a Palestinian ‘terrorist’; The events are never fully explained but it seems that she gave a lift to a young man who is accused of shooting an Israeli. The Israelis never produce any evidence to support their charges.
Once in prison Layal is tortured, interrogated and denied access to friends and family. Then she is incarcerated in a large cell in a women’s prison with Israeli criminals; these include a drug addict and an obviously racist woman. Layal is immediately subjected to harassment by the other prisoners. The warder and the guards are not just unsympathetic but actively aid the persecution. Then Layal discovers she is pregnant. She is now moved to a cell with Palestinian women. However, the woman Governor tries to persuade Layal to have an abortion,. Her husband, when he is finally allowed to see her, adds his voice to this.
When Layal is bought before a military court there appears to be no convincing evidence against her. At one point the young Palestinian accused of the shooting is bought into court and Layal is pressurised to claim that he threatened her; she refuses. Her lawyer, a sympathetic Israeli, tries to get her release but she is declared guilty and given an eight year sentence.
The film follows her experiences of imprisonment. At first the other Palestinian women in the cell are suspicious of Layal, partly because she has been allowed family visits: a way used by the Israeli guards to pressurise prisoner into co-operation. On particular one prisoner, Sanaa (Nadira Omran), who is a freedom fighter locked up for fifteen years, suspects Layla of such co-operation. Despite these pressures, and those applied by the guards and her husband., Layal is delivered of her baby. This sequence shows her handcuffed and leg-cuffed to a bed for the delivery!
With the arrival of a son, Nour, her situation and the tone of the film brighten. The other Palestinian woman assist Layal in the care of her child. We watch this process as Nour passes his first two years. In 1982 the prisoners hear of the \Israeli invasion of Lebanon, followed by the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila camps. The women commence a hunger strike and also refuse to do the work for the Israeli guards. The Palestinian male prisoners, in a adjoining compound, follow suit. As the conflict escalates Layla is removed from the cell and locked up alone with Nour. A second Palestinian woman joins her and persuades her to drop the strike for the sake of Nour. When Layal realises that she is a collaborator she rejoins the strike. As punishment Nour is taken away; [we will realise later that he has been placed with Layal’s family’]. Despite this Layal continues to support the strike. There is a brutal sequence where the Israeli guards break up a protest and shoot a young Palestinian woman. Then they use tear gas on the prisoners and savage them in the cells. The woman continue to resist. Now comes news that the ‘resistance’ has kidnapped six Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. This leads to prisoner swap [six for over 4,000] and Sanaa is one of those released.
Layal has to continue to serve her full eight years. Finally she is released. The last shot shows her re-united with Nour outside the prison. On screen titles then inform the audience of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who have been incarcerated by the Israelis, including currently six thousand men, women and children.
This is the first full length drama involving the treatment of Palestinians seized and locked up by the Israeli state that I have seen. There are other films where prisoners are manipulated by Israeli’s but these were part of larger stories about resistance and the Israeli response. The fact that the film focuses on women adds to the emotional power of the film. The treatment they endure is draconian and racist: but this is the staple of the Zionist occupation. The film also shows Layal’s growing strength, determination and resistance. The pregnancy and Nour’s upbringing add lighter note but also impact on Layal’s response to her situation.
The film offers many tropes of the prison film genre. There have been several films in recent years that deal with woman and children in prison. Leonera (Argentina 2008) is a particular fine example. there are distinct parallels between that film and 3000 Nights. Whilst the protagonist in Leonera , Julia, is in prison for a criminal act, there is a similar growth in strength and independence and the final moment of freedom for mother and child.
3000 Nights also uses other tropes from prison films. there are several short sequences where Layal watches the birds that fly around the cages of the prison: a motif for freedom denied the prisoners. And later in the film there is a shot of Layal as she stands in the pouring rain but imbued with her sense of independence.
The film offers fairly adult viewing given the violence perpetrated on the women. At the same time it has strong sense of the politics of liberation. The events involving the ‘resistance’ [the PLO] are one aspect: but the resistance of the women to their situation is another. Even by the standards of prison films, say those sited in the USA or in a country like Brazil, the treatment of the Palestinian women is disturbing. But this is par for the situation of people in a colonised situation. A parallel would be a film from Apartheid South Africa, say Mapantsula (1988), where racist treatment is also faced by a growing consciousness and resistance.
This is the first film I have seen by the writer and director Mai Masri. It is extremely well done. The development of the story and of Layal’s consciousness is well paced and convincing. The Palestinian characters are more than stereotypes as are the Israelis. The latter are predominantly negative but the script includes both a Liberal Israeli lawyer and an Israeli prisoner who has a change of attitude after an act of assistance. Layal’s husband leaves for Canada and there is a hint of romance with a male Palestinian prisoner/ medical orderly, which I found unnecessary. The film is based to on the actual experiences of Palestinian women i imprisoned by the Israeli state, including those who had children in prison. This reality shines through in the film.
The quality of the production is really good. there is excellent cinematography and sound. And there is judiciously judged music. The supporting vast are convincing.
There are more screenings arranged in the UK and the internationally the film has been released in at least eighteen territories.