Where Should the Birds Fly? documents the separate stories and shared experience of two women in Gaza. It opens by briefly introducing us two the two major characters -- Mona Al Samouni and Fida Qishta. Mona Al Samouni is an 11 year old girl whose family died when her home was hit by Israeli rockets during Operation Cast Lead. Fida Qishta, the filmmaker, is a Gazan videographer, teacher, and human rights worker. Born and raised in Rafah, Gaza, she began her filmmaking career as a wedding videographer and soon moved on to working with international human rights observers in Gaza, documenting day to day life under siege.
In the opening sequences of the film we see all these aspects of Fida’s life -- a wedding, the efforts of farmers and fishermen to carry out their work under siege, and the destruction of her family home in Rafah by Israeli bulldozers. The film follows farmers attempting to work their fields and harvest crops near the Gaza-Israel border coming under gunfire from Israeli border patrols. It documents the efforts of fishermen to maintain their livelihood while under attack from Israeli gunboats. Fida’s graphic coverage of the late 2008 to early 2009 military attack on Gaza concludes her story and leads us directly into Mona’s story.
Mona explains, just several days after the actual events, how she witnessed the deaths of five family members when rockets were fired into the house where they sought refuge. The film then follows her over a period of two years as she copes with her grief and loss and tries to make sense of her experience. Although she speaks from a child’s perspective, she seems much older than her years. She expresses her feelings reluctantly and with difficulty -- 'I lost my mother, my father, my freedom and the life I had.... I know that people don't appreciate the blessings they have until they lose them...'. But we see into her heart through the drawings that she makes. She shows us her family as it was, and as it is after the attack. She shows us her life as it was, and as it is now. Her sister and brother describe Mona’s trauma and theirs as well, so we see Mona’s story told from the adult perspective.
The film ends with Mona’s hopes for the future, her hopes to be free, her hopes to tell the world about life in Gaza.
While the film visually tells the story of the efforts of Gazans to live and work under conditions of siege, and documents the horrific Israeli military attack, it is also about the struggle of these two women to maintain humanity, humor and hope, and to find some sense of normality in a world that is anything but normal. Through the lens of the camera we see the different sides of Gaza -- the border, the lives of farmers and fishermen, the impact of military attack, and the effort to pick up shattered lives and maintain humanity.
Fida Qishta, Director
Fida Qishta is a Palestinian camerawoman/editor and filmmaker, born in Rafah City in the south of Gaza. Since 2006 she has worked as a journalist, producing news stories and documentaries in the Gaza. Her articles have appeared in the U.K. Observer and Guardian newspapers and The International Herald Tribune. She is a qualified teacher and in 2004 founded the Life Makers Center in Rafah, Gaza to teach English and drama to traumatized children. In this film Fida has documented the horrific Israeli invasion and bombardment of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. She and her crew of young videographers kept their cameras rolling for months, recording the struggle of the people of Gaza to retrieve some sense of normalcy from the absolute abnormality of life in the world’s largest prison camp, sealed off on all sides by Israeli and Egyptian walls, barbed wire and military. Where Should The Birds Fly is her first feature documentary film.
Gladys Joujou, Editor
Gladys Joujou is a well respected film editor based in Paris, France. She began her career over 10 years ago and has worked on numerous feature length and short narrative and documentary films. She is fluent in French, English and Arabic. Her credits include: Oliver Stone’s Alexander with Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell, Michel Kammoun’s award winning film, Falafel, and Randall Wallace’s
The Man in the Iron Mask with Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jacques Doillon’s Raja.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR FIDA QISHTA
How did you start filming?
I worked for a friend, Mohammed, who needed someone to help him organize his business. We were friends. He had come many times to our neighborhood to film. When he saw how I organized my notebooks – with colors and symbols to remind me of what I need to know --he called and said, “My business is collapsing. I need you to help me get my business together.” I went to his store – which was mess. I started to organize his files, computer, etc. One day a man came in saying he wanted a camerawoman to film a wedding. Because I had made a reservation book for the camera people, I knew there was no one available. But Mohammed wrote my name in the book. I said, “Are you crazy? I don't know how to do this business. I don't know how to film.” He said, “ I will show you.” He sd me how to turn the camera on, then to push the red button. If I did that, it records. If I pushed it again, it stops. He said, “Make sure you see the three letters REC. If you see it you are filming. If not, you are not filming. You are going to film the wedding.” That was it. I went to the wedding to film it. In the middle of my filming, the camera turned off, then back on. I called Mohammed but he told me to keep going filming, that he would fix the film afterwards. When I got back to the shop I told him that no one would ever ask him to film a wedding again. He edited the wedding tape, putting in music, matching it to the people dancing. He gave the tape to the customer. The customer came back into the store – to complain I worried. Instead, he said, “You filmed my wedding. We are very happy with the tape. You are going to film my brother's and my cousin's wedding.”
I started to work with internationals in 2003 and 2004. Most of them had cameras. I translated for them. In 2005 and 2006, I started to shape my dream. With video, I could speak about the story of my house without speaking another language. That's when I started to believe in the camera as a language. In 2006, I came to the US to speak about the situation in Gaza. Some people were asking “How did this thing or that thing happen ?” My language wasn't good enough to tell them everything I went through or exactly what the situation was. I thought, if I had a camera, I wouldn't have to let these details slip away. In particular, one person asked about Rafah – “What happens in the home demolition? Are people compensated? Where do they go?” If I were filming, I could tell the story of how people left their homes, went to a school for shelter, stayed with others, then eventually got settled into a new places to live. When I returned to Gaza in 2006, a group of internationals bought me a camera and I started to film.
In 2009, when Gaza was attacked, most internationals left. There were few journalists. The only people filming were from Gaza, myself included. But, because they weren't English speakers, others talked about their footage. I thought this wasn't fair. I wanted to tell my story. It's not enough to have someone come for two weeks, hear a story, then leave. How did you and Gladys work together? Gladys is originally from Lebanon. She has memories as a child of what happened in the Lebanon war. It was nice to work with her. The stories and the destruction I documented made her angry, but I wanted the film to be a way of communication, not to make people hate each other. If people understand what these weapons do to people, they might get the bigger picture and not want to continue the killings. We had a long discussion about the part of the narration where I said, “All weapons strike fear into the hearts of the people under them.” People think a small rocket is not like a big rocket. The destruction is not the same. But the damage the small rocket does to people's hearts is the same. Both make you scared and afraid. I think this is important to recognize. The cycle of violence is endless.
We had a lot of debate about which home demolition scenes to use. I wanted to use the scenes that were related to me – not necessarily the most dramatic ones. Later in the film, she worried that Ayman's scene was too graphic and people might have trouble seeing it. But I felt that Ayman and I had times together in Khoza'a. and I wanted to talk about someone precious to me. We had a lot of footage from the destruction caused by the Israeli attack. Both Brian and Gladys initially focused more on the war as a major part of the movie. For me, the people's lives are more important than showing just destruction. I wouldn't sit for sixty minutes to see only destruction. There so many parts of our lives that go unrecorded. And I had footage to document many of these invisible struggles. Like the stories of the Palestinian fishermen: how they are harassed by Israeli gunboats, the arbitrary edicts about where they can fish. The disregard for any law of the sea applied them.
I used to sit on the beach with friends and see the fishermen fishing with hasaka (very small boats). You don't understand what this is really like until you sit on the beach for six or seven hours to see if the boat will come back. Many of the fishermen who go out in the hasaka are young, 13 to 17 years old. Likewise, people don't know anything about the farmers of Gaza. Fishing and farming are two major ways Palestinians make a living. People don't know the journey of a bunch of parsley – how that bunch of parsley made it to their home. The normal process is farmers plant it, harvest it, and sell it. But for the Gaza farmers, it is totally different. Often they are prevented from reaching their lands. They have to go with international observers. Sometimes, even with observers present. the Israeli soldiers shoot at them. Sometimes they let them work. Sometimes they let them plant and work the land, then at harvest season keep them from harvesting.
I would hear shooting all the time, but never thought about what farmers were going through. This is another side of Palestinian life that I could tell. The people of Gaza are essentially trapped. Crossing the border into Israel is impossible. The Egyptian border can be traumatic. Few people outside of Gaza understand this, but I had footage to document it. In 2006 I was able to go to Europe. When I came back, it was the most horrible thing to imagine. We waited outside the Egyptian border terminal. First the Egyptians told us, “You will go home tonight.' They took our passports and we waited – hours pass. It is not two hours, it's ten hours. Then the officers came and said that the Israelis have said they will shoot at anyone crossing. People said, “Let us go. We will risk it.” But no, we stayed in that terminal for weeks. Many people had medical conditions – amputations or other surgeries. They were inside the crossing terminal and couldn't go the hospital for the further treatment they needed. They couldn't leave because their passports were stamped that they had exited Egypt. But they hadn't. Nine people died waiting to get the treatment they needed after surgery.
Did peoples’ reactions to the film result in changes?
Some people thought that the film was really two films: the story of the war and occupation and Mona’s story. But the reality in Gaza is that people live these stories every day. It’s one story -- our effort to live a normal life, working, celebrating, taking care of each other, living with our families -- every day. We thought a lot about how to integrate the many stories I had filmed. I think in the end Mona’s story, along with the fishermen and farmers humanizes and personalizes what we suffer under occupation. Mona’s story also leaves us with hope that we can survive even under these circumstances.