Ertijal (improvisation): a film where small victories are possible


While an “uncontroversial” film set in Palestine and Israel might sound like code for “ignorant” or “milquetoast,” this film is neither. And while Ertijal, directed by Raed Andoni and appearing at Minneapolis’ Oak Street Cinema on Feb. 22, doesn’t explicitly engage in polemics, it does achieve the unusual in portraying Palestinians as full-spectrum human beings. They are not only interested in politics, as eldest brother Samir Joubran remarks in an interview with the International Herald-Tribune. They also love.

The film is set to be shown Friday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Minneapolis’ Oak Street Cinema with a promise that the Joubran brothers will be on hand to answer questions. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, the trio is scheduled to give a concert in Hamline University’s Sundin Hall. Both events are co-sponsored by Mizna, Minnesota’s Arab-American arts organization.

* Information about the film from Oak Street Cinema
* More about the brothers and their music from the Minnesota Guitar Society

The documentary follows Samir, Wissam and Adnan—three very different, and highly talented, young men—from their privileged home in Nazareth, to a Ramallah under siege, to a much-anticipated concert in Paris. The brothers’ music is international, but the film finds its heart in Palestine. A house demolition in Ramallah is not exploited as a moment of dramatic climax, but instead is viewed through the eyes of Palestinian observers, for whom the occurrence is both terrible and banal.

Samir, the eldest and the most political of the three, is eager to lecture us and his brothers about music, about improvisation, and about the circumstances of his homeland. He is called, in various reviews, “tightly wound,” “passionate,” and a man who is obsessed with Palestine, family, and music.

I saw Ertijal last spring, at the Arab Film Festival. It was a day after I’d watched the Israeli film Hothouse, a documentary that follows Palestinians inside an Israeli prison. By the end of Hothouse, I felt almost underwater: stunned, hopeless, unable to breathe.

Ertijal provided the breath, hope, and music I needed to move again. The film moves intimately inside the Joubran family and the distinct personalities of the three brothers. If there is any “message” to be taken from the film, it is only this: Small victories are possible.

Particularly if you’ve seen the film, or if you have others to recommend, I encourage you to please post your thoughts below.

Marcia Lynx Qualey is a mother, a writer, and is affiliated with the University of Minnesota in various ways.