The Mahmoud Darwish quote, “Where should we go after the last frontiers? Where should the birds fly after the last sky?” opens Fida Qishta’s film – its name derived from the aforementioned quote – Where Should the Birds Fly setting the stage for a deeply personal film that navigates the collective trauma of a community. It is also the first film made by Palestianians living in Gaza about the conflict. Qishta introduces the film as something about Gaza by those who have experienced it their whole lives: “These are Palestinian stories. It is my story of Mona Samouni and the story of story of two young women of Gaza.” The film moves between loss, consolidation and hope. “A few years after we lost our home,” Qishta begins, before remarking a flip side that promulgates the film, “I learned how to use a camera.” Above all, among the conflict, throughout the pain, Where Should the Birds Fly is about finding happiness in an environment where it has become an increasingly scarce resource.
While hope is an undercurrent throughout, the pain and turmoil Gazans experience permeates much of the film. It’s hard to imagine this not being the case, however, without the work feeling emotionally dishonest and trivialising the overtly clear perpetual struggle that Qishta’s film evinces. Early into the Where Should The Birds Fly the film centres in on a period where 9 people died simply waiting for three weeks in a transit area to get back to their home. Rather than simply examining the conflict, it takes a multi-faceted examination of life in Palestine, where the constant punctuation of pain is far more startling than examinations that focus solely on the centre of the conflict. A farming scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting at harvesting farmers, where it is outlined that the farmers were allowed to grow their crops until they were ready to harvest before such soldiers appeared.“Stop shooting, we are all civilians unarmed,” a journalist shouts, while another man gives the more personal reflection: “I haven’t been able to farm this land for 20 year now… look at this soil. This soil is my blood.” The situation is hopeless, the treatment of the Palestinians is beyond cruel, but their response is both heartbreaking and inspiring, in their constant hope and momentum with an increasingly admirable refusal to simply fold over.
Another scene shows footage of Israeli boats shooting at an unarmed fishing ship constitutes one of the film’s most harrowing scenes. Cut amongst the scene, one woman simply asks the question, “Do they consciously intend to deprive them of the ability to make a living and feed their families?”, while the lack of a reply says more than an expert on the conflict probably ever could. This intimacy in every layer of Palestinian life marks Where Should The Birds Fly as a rare film on Palestine. While being a strong piece on its own right, the involvement and production by people who live the conflict every day – rather than politicised outsiders – gives the film a more human, a less political and arguably a more effective edge. The film is punctuated by images of slaughter, screams of “Where is my son Ahmed?”, a man standing in ruins shouting “Mohammed my son, answer me,” sitting alongside children crying creates a collage of pain that can never be discounted as a ‘reaction’. This isn’t anti-Israeli propaganda. It’s a document of a reality. In one scene Qishta even goes as far to say, even if you end the argument of who started firing rockets upon whom, the real question remains the imprisonment of the people of Gaza. “Why the continued occupation of Palestinian land and the massive collective punishment of its people?”
A young girl walking through Gaza at the end of the film frames the conclusion with a sense of hope throughout the chaos. “I really love the birds because they have freedom, they fly, they sing and they travel. In the morning they chirp. Here in Gaza we are liked caged birds. We can’t fly or breathe or sing. We are locked in a cage of sadness and sorrows.” When the narrator returns and takes over from the girl, she continues the monologue “I remember when I played on the beach. It was simple. It was fun.” She describes a conversation with her father from her youth, where she asked him what happens when the sun sets and he responds that it just shines somewhere else, so others may see. “A sunset here does not mean the sun is gone,” she concludes – in a metaphor that is as uncertain as the future of the Palestinian people, but hopeful nonetheless.