Ibtisam Ma'arana has a remarkable talent for making documentary films with tension, development and denouement, as was seen in her Lady Kul el-Arab (previously discussed on this blog). She is an outspoken, modern, and articulate woman who is desperately trying to straddle the diverse parts of her identity. Having grown up in a traditional Muslim family in Furadeis (a village on the coast, near Zichron Yackov), she decides to move to Tel Aviv. In her newest film, 77 Steps, she looks specifically at where she fits in as a professional-Israeli- Palestinian-Muslim-woman-filmmaker.
A film which begins as a personal journey to discovering life in Tel Aviv soon becomes a portrait of a love story – a love story between Ibtisam and Jonathan, a Jewish immigrant from Canada. This is the story of two people in love, trying to make it work, who aren't willing to compromise on who they are and what they believe in.
Ibtisam has joined the leftwing political party, Meretz, and is on their list for the Knesset. However, after Israel invades Gaza in January 2009, and her political party supports the invasion, she decides to resign from running for the Knesset. Meanwhile, we are witness to a developing love affair. But things are not so easy with their families. In phone conversations with her mother, Ibtisam reveals some of what she is feeling about how the Arabs of Israel are treated. At the same time, her mother wants her to come home with a nice Muslim boy. Similarly, Jonathan honestly relates that his parents will not be very welcoming to their son's new girlfriend. He explains that they are looking for the ideal girl – white, English-speaking and Jewish.
In discussion with the audience, following the premiere screening of the film at the Jerusalem Film Festival a few days ago, Mara'ana explained "when you fall in love, the heart doesn't ask you for permission. But, I wasn't born white, not Jewish and I don't speak English." Jonathan also spoke at the premiere screening. "The film started out as a film about Ibtisam's moving from Furadeis to Tel Aviv. It became a movie about us, about our relationship, about the things we had in common and we were both opinionated and passionate. Soon, we both realized that our goals, our personalities, who we were, and the gap between us were all too great."
The title of the film refers to the 77 steps that you have to climb to get up to Ibtisam's parents' home in Furadeis, where she grew up. These steps represent her childhood home, her roots. Even though she says she has stopped counting the steps, she can't get away from her identity, her connection to her past, her parents, her upbringing, her belonging, and her roots.
The film is available from Ibtisam Films, or directly from the filmmaker, Ibtisam Mara'ana at firstname.lastname@example.org