In the Middle East, women directors unspool social commentary
The Monitor talks to three female filmmakers about the trials and triumphs of moviemaking in conservative societies.
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Later, Maraana studied media communication in Jerusalem but soon shifted her focus. "I realized there were so many stories no one was telling," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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One such story, chronicled in "Three Times Divorced," is often difficult to watch. It delves into divorce and child custody in the Arab world by following Khitam, a Palestinian woman from Gaza, who is beaten, divorced, and thrown out of her house by her Israeli Arab husband. Her efforts to gain custody of her six children, to fight the Islamic sharia courts, and to gain legal status in Israel, show the power of a determined woman against all odds.
"Courage is in my genes," says Maraana calmly, sipping tea in her apartment in Florentine, an artsy south Tel Aviv neighborhood. "Women typically appreciate my movies and want to have a forum for these important issues," she says. But men, especially, surprisingly, educated ones, feel threatened."
Maraana compares her filmmaking to going to war. Not surprisingly, she longs to write a feature. "In fiction you can create your own reality," she says. "I want to make movies about love, too. I don't always want to be fighting."
Buthina Canaan Khoury
Buthina Canaan Khoury, a Christian Palestinian filmmaker from the West Bank town of Taybeh, is used to pioneering unchartered territory. She was the first Palestinian camera woman and producer for the European Broadcasting Union inside the Palestinian Territories. Now the head of her own Majd Production Company, she has nothing less than a filmmaking agenda: to highlight key Palestinian issues.
Her latest film, "Maria's Grotto," which opened November in Ramallah, takes on the often taboo subject of honor killings. In it, Khoury looks at the aftermath of two honor killings and interviews two other women who survived brutal stabbings. "This movie is not meant to give a bad image to Palestinians," she stresses. "On the contrary, we criticize ourselves because we love our society and want to help it improve."
Khoury got her start in Boston by getting an MBA in photography and filmmaking. Her first splash as a filmmaker was 2004's "Women in Struggle," an account of four women who had spent years in Israeli jails.
The filmmaker is thrilled that more women are getting behind the camera.
"It's a domino effect, in which seeing one Arab woman making a film soon inspires and encourages others to follow suit," she says. "And the more we produce, the greater the interest – before we were seen as exotic, one-off phenomenons, but now we have a diversity of voices and we are being taken more seriously."
She wouldn't mind a turn at lighter fare, though. Khoury's next film will relay the story of her own family, which moved from Boston back home to Taybeh, in the West Bank, in 1994 after the Oslo Accords – in order to fulfill their father's dream of opening the first microbrewery in the Middle East. (Not easy in a region full of "dry" spots.)
"It's challenging to do women's issues all the time," concludes Khoury. "I would like to have a little fun."