"He was a bird in love with a fish, separating them was the thin line of water, which they broke together for just one kiss. This is their brief story. Between one kiss and another their life took its course; in the sea lived a fish and in the sky lived a bird." – from "The Fish and the Bird" by Hasan Hourani (1974 – 2003)
Palestinian director Mais Darwazah's documentary "My Love Awaits me by the Sea" is an epic love story. However, unlike most love stories, Darwazah's has not met the man she has fallen in love with and never will.
His name is Hasan Hourani, a Palestinian artist and poet who died several years before she had even heard his name. In her documentary, Mais and Hasan, like the fish and the bird, transcend their different worlds to briefly but beautifully meet in the realm of make-belief.
She discovers him by coincidence- she is given his final and uncompleted work 'Hasan is Everywhere' as a gift. It is a children's book of illustration and poetry. In it, Hasan the Palestinian, whose life is dictated by borders and boundaries, travels the world with his imagination. His work resonates with many Palestinians, for whom freedom is dream.
For Mais, Hasan calls her home. Like many Palestinians, she lives in the diaspora and has never seen her homeland. Palestine has always been an elusive place which exists in her imagination. The documentary is a personal account of her first trip to Palestine as a second generation Palestinian told through her fantastical love affair with Hourani.
Speaking about the film, which was screened at the Barbican on Wednesday as part of the 'I/Eye in Conflict' film series currently running, Darawazah said: "This journey (back to Palestine) has been with me all my life. But I have never had the guts, never had the courage to do the trip." She added: "I didn't want to fall in love with a place and realise it was forbidden to be."
Hasan's work leads Darawazah to challenge what is "forbidden", forcing her to defeat the fears that come with the realising of a dream. She seeks an answer to the question: "How do you return to a place that only exists in your mind?" In "Hasan is Everywhere", he rises above the confines of the occupation and manages to free himself of gender, age, borders, and space. He makes friends with trees, birds and bees in the sky, on a cloud and underwater. It encourages her to not be afraid to see this "forbidden'" homeland outside of her imagination. "Through the narrative of my muse, my imaginary love, I felt I had created a person to protect me on this journey," she said.
The dream of seeing the sea forms a large part of the narrator's musings which are influenced by her mother telling stories of the freedom one feels at the shore. Darawazah weaves the theme of "dreams" throughout the whole documentary. A family she interviews talks of the dream of a "normal life". "The dream we speak of doesn't vanish when we wake up. It exists when you are sleeping, awake or dead. Its lifetime is longer than yours," says a Jerusalemite she interviews by Damascus Gate.
The climax of her journey is her arrival at the Bride of the Sea, the ancient port of Jaffa which is now part of Israel. The area, which was once bustling, is now a paved over street and an emblem of the tragedy of the Nakba. Many Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from Jaffa and now Israeli restrictions prevent Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and further afield from visiting. As a result, the sea has become something forbidden and a powerful symbol of freedom.
It is also a poignant place to bring an end to the love story with Hasan. Hasan managed to achieve the dream of swimming in the sea in Jaffa after years of being denied entry into Israel. He drowned that day alongside his younger nephew. The irony of his death touched many. It also leads Darawazah to ponder whether perhaps attaining one's dreams can be dangerous — whether because they fail to meet one's expectations, or because the experience is simply too overwhelming.
The I/Eye in Conflict film series continues on Saturday 16 May with Sara Ishaq's The Mulberry House and Karama Has No Walls. Buy tickets for the screening here.