In 1980, Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas travelled to Lebanon to film a documentary of interviews with Palestinians of the refugee camps around Beirut about their dreams. The Dream: A Diary of the Film is Malas’ haunting chronicle of his immersion in the life of the camps, including Shatila, Burj al-Barajneh, Nahr al-Bared, and Ein al-Helweh.
It also describes the filmmaking process, from the research stage to the films unofficial release, in Shatila Camp, before it reached a global audience. In vivid and poetic detail, Malas provides a snapshot of Palestinian refugees at a critical juncture of Lebanon’s bloody civil war, and at the height of the PLO’s power in Lebanon before the 1982 Israeli invasion and the PLOs subsequent expulsion. Malas probes his subject’s dreams and existential fears with an artist’s acute sensitivity, revealing the extent to which the wounds and contingencies of Palestinian statelessness are woven into the tapestry of a fragmented Arab nationalism. Although he halted his work on the film in 1982, following the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, he completed it in 1987, turning 400 interviews into 23 dreams and 45 minutes of screen time. Both diary and film present these people somewhere between present and past tense, but they are preserved forever in the word, magnetic tape, and now in digital code. The Dream is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of the Palestinians in the modern Middle East, and for students and scholars of Arab filmmaking, politics, and literature.