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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Improvisations

Film Review: Improvisations

By Sonia Nettnin At The Chicago Palestine Film Festival

When the soldier wants to see what the oud looks like, Samir takes the instrument out of the trunk of his car (Photo courtesy of CPFF)

The documentary, "Improvisations," is a musical journey into the Joubran family of Nazareth and Ramallah. Three, Palestinian brothers are oud musicians who find innovative ways to work together and deal with Israeli military occupation.

Born in Nazareth the three brothers come from a family of musicians and luthiers (makers of stringed instruments). The Joubran family is well-known historically for their close relationship with music and their contributions to Arabic music within Palestinian society.

In 1948, after the creation of the State of Israel the Joubran family remained in Nazareth, which became an Arab city inside Israel. The Palestinians who live there carry IDs with Israeli-Arab status. They are a part of the Arab minority inside Israel.

The eldest brother, master oud virtuoso Samir Joubran has performed throughout Europe and the Middle East. The oud is the Arabic fretless lute, and Samir talked about the oud at Chicago's World Music Festival in October 2005. Here is a link to a concert review.

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For the past, few years his younger brother, oud musician and luthier, Wissam has joined the tour. In 2004 the youngest brother, oud musician Adnan wants to perform with his brothers professionally.

While the three brothers practice conflict arises because of differences in musicianship levels and professional experience. With the integration of Adnan the brothers must develop a professional performance relationship. Amid these challenges personality clashes between brothers creates tension. While Samir and Wissam teach Adnan, the challenges are muscial and psychological because trust between the brothers must exist for the debut of Le Trio Joubran to be a success. Samir explains to Adnan that whenever they perform they will improvise to keep the music flowing. Improvisation requires spontaneous performance.

Samir is married and lives with his wife and young daughter in Ramallah - a city in the Occupied Territories. Now that Samir resides in the West Bank he must pass through checkpoints manned by Israel soldiers. He explains to a soldier where he is driving. When the soldier is curious about the oud, Samir takes the instrument out of the trunk of his car and shows the instrument.

For Palestininans improvisation is about survival under the daily conditions of occupation and creating ways to reach destinations.

One day in Ramallah, Samir is scheduled to perform an evening concert with internationally-renowned poet, Mahmoud Darwish. However, the previous day was a different day. Ramallah was under curfew and residents were forbidden to wander the streets. Suddenly, there is a loud explosion and an entire, muli-level apartment building collapsed to the ground. The Israeli Army detonated the building with explosives because one of the tenants had a guest wanted by Israeli forces. As a result of the explosion, dozens of people lost their homes.

Although some of the tenants moved in with family, some of the people live in compact homes, parked alongside the road. From a short distance the homes look like they are made of white-aluminum siding. The mobile homes should only be short-term living arrangements because people cannot live in them during the desert summer. The heat and humidity may cause suffocation or a heat stroke. How Palestinians survived when they were forced to live in tents after Al-Nakba or after an Israeli home demolition is incomprehensible.

Samir's house suffered roof damage. While a man repairs a window Samir talks with friends and then discusses the performance with one of the theater's coordinators.

When he talks about Palestinians' daily living conditions he comments: "As if we acquire the lust for living from our own suffering." The occupation's violence violates people - Palestinians and Israelis - and denies them their human rights to security and freedom. "I feel this soldier these soldiers are your own will all the misery they carry inside," Samir adds.

As he drives by the soldiers, their faces look stressed and fatigued. The conflict wears on the people, who could be doing constructive, valuable activities in their lives. Instead, soldiers stand at checkpoints with guns and Palestinians wait in lines. Hence, the military occupation oppresses Palestinians and Israelis. Whether people are on the receiving end of the violence or people are the occupiers controlling the violence, the occupation's structure and functionality subjugates people to violence. The reduction of people to occupier-occupied is violence.

Wissam, who is in his early twenties, is an exampleof a person born and raised in the Holy Land who realized his dreams so he can thrive as an individual in society. He attended school in Italy to become a Stradivarius luthier. Wissam, who is in his early twenties, is the first Arab graduate of the school. Between his musicianship and luthiership Wissam accomplished significant achievements in his life.

Under occupation Palestinians and Israelis lose opportunities economically and psychologically. How can a Palestinian man forigve Israelis when there is no work for him so he can feed his family and send his children to school? How can an Israeli have an enjoyable life if she cannot forget the people subjected to her abuse during her military conscription servce? Will her past actions affect how she raises her future children?

Do the scenarios sound different? Yes. However, the feelings of despair and anger are more alike regardless of their source. My sidebar is to add to the point exhibited in the following paragraph:

When Samir and Wissam performed in Europe they talked about how they use their musical abilities to play for peace. Music brings people from diverse ethnic, political, religious, and geographical backgrounds together. Samir plays to bring his peoples' plight to the public so that the world understands Palestinians have a history and culture that cannot be denied.

From Adnan's viewpoint, he plays because he wants to see the world happy. When he held the oud for the first time, he says "...it was because of a love story, as if I wanted to prove to the world how much I am in love." For him music is about inspiring warm feelings and laughter.

The three musicians have flourished because they have supportive parents. Their father had an instrumental role in their musical upbringing. The time and energy he spends with his sons shows his dedication to their life goals.

When Samir performs on stage with master poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose words evoke feelings, challenge the mind, swoon the heart, and move the soul, it is understood that Samir has become another ambassador of Palestinian arts, music and culture to the rest of the world. Palestinian artists and musicians are human instruments of peace. Through poetry, art, music, and song they illustrate Palestinians' rich history, arts and culture. Director Raed Andoni gives the world a cinematic view of Palestinian life through artists and their continuous struggle under siege.

Darwish articulates how Palestinians belong to the land when he says: "We have on this earth what makes life worth living. On this earth, the lady of earth, mother of all beginnings and ends. She was called Palestine, her name later became Palestine. My lady because you are my lady I deserve life."

-This film (in Arabic with English subtitles) will be showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. St. for the 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival on Saturday, May 13 at 3:30 P.M. and Tuesday, May 16 at 6:30 P.M. For more information please visit palestinefilmfest.com.

Director and Scriptwriter Raed Andoni
Producer Saed Andoni
Camera Hanna Abu Sada
Raed Andoni
Catherine Rios
Laurent Didier
Sound Ala'a Khouri
Issa Qumsieh
Pierre Carrasco
Editor Saed Andoni
Music "Hawas" by Le Trio Joubran
Randana 2005 Fair Play / Randana
2005 DARS Film Production
Duration: 60 minutes


U.S. journalist and film critic Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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