Set in the West Bank city of Ramallah, two Palestinian schools unite to create a mobile circus where children can tell their story with their own voice. While fundraising to produce the documentary, director Courtney Coulson explains to how this circus can change perspectives and turn creativity into a form of peaceful resistance.
Why a circus in Palestine?
The absence of positive media from the Middle East was what led me to make Welcome to the Circus. I discovered The Palestinian Circus School when I googled the words “Palestine” and “happy” and discovered an image of a young girl swinging through the air on a rope called the tissue; and I wondered: why isn’t this story being told? Why is our only version of Palestine shaped entirely by the conflict?
I also gravitated towards The Palestinian Circus School because I think the arts are an invaluable resource for coping with trauma and loss; and it gives them a chance to tell their own story in their own voice. It is a form of peaceful resistance.
In the video, you make reference to Palestine’s “special situation”. What does this mean to the team?
The way that Noor refers to the occupation as “special situation” made a strong impression on me. The Palestinian students were hyper aware of how they were perceived by the rest of the world and compared it to being an alien, like there was something strange or inhuman about them because of their nationality.
The occupation plays a defining role in every aspect of daily life, especially for a mobile circus. Travel is severely limited in the West Bank, and the Circus was extremely concerned that only the French circus school (the LIDO) and the student Myropy (who have the Blue/Jerusalem ID) would be allowed to perform in Jerusalem.
How do you evaluate the results of the fundraising campaign?
We have been fundraising for four months and have just $3,000 left to raise to cover post production costs. We’ve received a lot of community support from local organizations in Portland like KBOO, Jews for Peace, and NW Documentary. We have found that it is harder to tell a story like Welcome to the Circus because it’s not the usual story about Palestine. We need to present peace as a possibility.
What are the plans for the near future?
We want to use Welcome to the Circus to educate youth, as they relate to the themes of being misunderstood and alienated. We believe this film can provided an accessible introduction to travel restrictions and geography in the West Bank. Our goal is to start a conversation about a topic that has become a third rail in the United States. We think it’s important to promote images of positivity and peace to prevent words like “terrorist” from becoming synonymous with Palestinians.
To help us provide more inspiring, unique stories from the Middle East, donate to our crowdfunding campaign now!