director's note / production anecdotes
Make A Wish is an intimate personal journey that follows Mariam on the day of her late father’s birthday. While the film doesn’t definitively deal with how her father died, political references throughout indicate that his death was related to the political turmoil in the region. The film was inspired by the idea of absence, specifically the many Palestinian men who are absent from their families due to imprisonment or death. And little is ever known about who they were or what they left behind. I wanted to pay tribute to the grief of the surviving loved ones. And I wanted to portray that grief through the eyes of a child.
The film is shot semi-documentary style in order to capture the realism of the Palestinian experience and to build a sense of urgency. The stakes are high for Mariam. She must be able to buy the cake before the end of the day, or it will be too late. Mariam’s desperation is telegraphed through long lenses so that the audience is immersed in her point-of-view. The audience sees the world through her selective eyes. The eyes of a grieving child with but one thing on her mind: buying her father’s favorite cake in order to celebrate his life and honor his memory. The tone of the film is one of a drama with a light touch. Moments of candid humor shine through to ease the tension of Mariam’s journey.
Thematically, Make A Wish explores the devastating impact of political conflict and war: love, loss and grief on a deep, personal level. It offers a glimpse into a family working through expressions of grief, each member dealing with it in a vastly different manner. The film is both a celebration of life and a work of mourning. (Cherien Dabis)
When I traveled to the Middle East in October of 2005 to shoot the film, I hadn’t been back to Palestine in twenty years. It took me twelve hours to travel 55 miles from Amman, Jordan to Ramallah. I was detained and interrogated by Israeli soldiers at the Allenby Border Crossing.
The film was shot entirely in occupied territory using non-actors and working with a very small crew. While I flew in American cinematographer Alison Kelly, the rest of the crew was Palestinian. Though we shot on mini-DV, we rented the mini-pro 35 in order to attach 35mm prime lenses to the camera. We didn’t realize that finding a Palestinian focus puller would be nearly impossible. There is one. And he was booked. We would have hired an Israeli but Israelis aren’t allowed to travel into occupied territory. So we hired a Palestinian cameraman and trained him.
The scene where Mariam sells gum on the street corner was shot totally documentary style. Whenever the traffic light turned red, we ran out to the cars stopped at the intersection, told the passengers VERY briefly what we were doing and what we wanted from them and then rolled camera. We had less than one minute to do all of that so we were lucky if we got one take per red light. Unfortunately I was never able to get the names of those “actors” in order to give them credit or thank them.
On the third day, several Palestinian police officers asked us to stop shooting and leave the area immediately because they were fighting with Palestinian security forces and gunfire threatened to ensue. Luckily, it never did.
My American Cinematographer was not only strip-searched at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on her way back to the U.S., she was also escorted to the plane. (Cherien Dabis)