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Photo courtesy National Film Board of Canada

Canadian filmmaker’s documentary set for Calgary première

By Troy Hasselman, February 14, 2019

What Walaa Wants, a documentary produced by Canadian filmmaker Christy Garland, is set to screen in Calgary on Feb. 16 at the Globe Cinema as part of the Justice Film Festival.

The film follows the story of the titular Walaa, a Palestinian girl who grew up in the Balata Refugee Camp in the West Bank, and follows her from the ages of 15 to 21 as she pursues her goal of becoming a police officer in the Palestinian Security Forces. This takes place against the backdrop of the conflict she grows up in, her family’s objections to her goal of becoming an officer and her relationship with her mother, who is released from prison at the start of the film after being convicted for attempting to bomb a nearby settlement.

The concept and story of the documentary stems from a chance encounter that Garland had with Walaa during a trip she made to the West Bank in 2012.

“I was with a group of women video game designers from Denmark who travel into conflict zones and teach young women how to design video games. I thought that I’d maybe find a film in that, so I tagged along hoping I’d find some incredible young woman who wants to design a video game,” Garland says. “I ended up with loads of footage of young girls staring at computer screens, which is extremely boring.

“About two days before we were set to leave we were attending a workshop in the Balata Refugee Camp and I saw this amazing kid who just stuck out from everyone else. She had all kinds of energy, she was very rambunctious and she seemed like all of the other girls really loved her and they were also afraid of her at the same time,” she continues. “I asked about her and they told me her mother had just been released from prison and I thought a film might be there. So I started working on getting Walaa to trust me enough to allow me to shoot her.”

Filming took place between July 2012 and January 2018 with production wrapping shortly before the film’s première at the 2018 Berlinale Film Festival. Since premièring last year, the film has played in over 30 film festivals around the world in festivals in Europe, the Middle East and North America and has received significant recognition.

“I’ve been very lucky,” Garland says. “The film’s won five major awards so far, it’s been nominated for three Canadian screen awards and was shortlisted for two major prizes at the Berlinale. It’s a difficult story and I put a camera in one of the most most sensitive places in the world you could try and make a film. The reception has been very, very gratifying.”

Garland says she’s pleased that the film can give audiences perspective of the people caught in the middle of a major conflict.

“I wanted to share just one Palestinian girls’ story and hope people would watch it and better understand what young people living through that conflict are going through,” she says. “That’s ultimately the reason why I wanted to do the film.”

What Walaa Wants plays at the Globe Cinema in Calgary from Feb.16–28. For information on showtimes and tickets, visit their website or call (403) 262-3309.

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