by Toomas Järvet

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IDFA Competition Grand Prix du Jury Cultural Endowment of Estonia Pärnu International Documentary Film Festival

Palestinian man
with a dream

Maher, a Palestinian man, a former political prisoner. He is an electrical engineer by profession but an artist at heart. He dreams of staging a contemporary dance performance in Ramallah. In order to do so, he must deal with his disapproving family, tight budgets and cultural norms. Set in today’s most contested location, Maher’s story is a parable about a society in conflict, where the real war is between dreams and traditions.

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Rough Stage is a film about a truely diverse character. Maher can be many things and can mean many things for different people. So we decided to ask the opinion of the audience. We showed film material to different people and asked them who do they think the film is about? Check out the videos below to see what came out.


Rough Stage is a documentary film by Estonian director Toomas Järvet. Shot over two years in Palestine, the film follows the life of Maher and the world he lives in.

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Toomas Järvet
Eero Talvistu
Max Golomidov
Sound recording
Patrick McGinley
Qutaiba Barhamji
Sound design
Seppo Vanhatalo

Soundtrack by Abraham's Café

Combining jazz and world music from different continents, Abraham's Café (EST) has earned its name among the audience by representing what the Nordic Orient could stand for. With that trust, they now are moving towards a more cinematic and personal approach in both composition and live performance. Their latest album “Berber Cinema” consists mainly of music that was written for the “Rough Stage”. Here is the link to their Spotify. Let’s use this as well as the possibilty to hear their work.

Abraham's Café at Spotify

Palestine: a rough stage

The birthplace of Judaism and Christianity. A place where the Muslim prophet went to visit heaven. The Holy Land. A region with a tumultuous history as a crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. Palestine.

The name Palestine itself was first used by Ancient Greek writers. Later, it was used for the Roman province Syria Palaestina, the Byzantine Palaestina Prima, and the Umayyad and Abbasid province of Jund Filastin. Throughout the centuries the land has been controlled by numerous peoples - Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Sunni Arab Caliphates, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Mongols, Ottomans, the British... In 1947 the Brits decided to withdraw from the Palestine mandate. From there on it has been a constant power struggle for the territory between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the neighboring Arab countries.

And now, almost seven decades later, there is still a lot of talk about the „peace process“ for the region, but it seems that a longer lasting solutions are nowhere near. For the people of Palestine their modern history is full of sorrow and instability. It has meant years of life under Israeli occupation. It has meant fighting against it. It has also meant deportations from their homes with no prospects to return. It has also meant isolation with the Israeli built hundreds of kilometers of concrete barrier being a symbol of that. Palestine is complicated. Palestine is rough. For an indvidual such as Maher it is a rough stage to cope with. But there is always hope.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 1: The “Palestinian territories” or “occupied Palestinian territories” refer to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. During the Six Day War in 1967 – between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria – Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and has maintained control of them ever since. Between World War II and the Six Day War, these areas had been occupied by Jordan and Egypt. The land area of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is altogether 6,220 sq km.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 2: The independence of the State of Palestine was declared on the 15th of November in 1988 in Algiers by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a government-in-exile. The state claimed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as a designated capital. After the Oslo Accords in 1993 ended the First Intifada (a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation), the PLO organized the Palestinian National Authority to exercise some governmental functions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. After two decades, which have been full of unrest and internal political instability as well as violent clashes with Israel, Palestinians finally managed to organize a unity government in 2014.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 3: In 2012, the United Nations granted Palestine non-member observer state status. Among the member states of the UN, 135 out of 193 countries have recognised Palestine's sovereignty. In 2014, Sweden became the first major EU member state to recognize Palestine. In January 2015, Palestine opened an embassy in Stockholm, Sweden – the first in western Europe.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 4: The number of Palestinians considered refugees today is almost 5 million. The diaspora began during the 1948 Arab-Israel war, when 85% (or 720,000 people) of the Palestinian Arab population from what has now become Israel fled or were expelled to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and neighbouring Arab countries. The number of refugees grew during the Six Day War in 1967. They and their descendants are now the world’s oldest refugee population, as well as the largest displaced population in the world.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 5: Israel started to build the West Bank barrier in 2002. They argue that the fence is there to protect the civilians from violence in Israel. The wall affects many aspects of life in the West Bank. For example, a lot of Palestinians have been separated from their land; or going to work means total scrutiny for them in Israeli checkpoints. To name just a few. Also, it is argued that over 80% of the fence is built directly into the West Bank territory. The International Court of Justice has declared the barrier illegal under international law, but Israel has continued to build it. If finished, the West Bank barrier will be over 700 kilometers long. As of 2015, Israel has finished almost 80% of it.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 6: The Taybeh Brewery was founded in 1994, and until 2015 it was the only beer producer in the West Bank. The second one – the Shepherds Brewery – was started last summer.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 7: Olive trees are an integral part of the Palestinian landscape. It is a symbol of Palestinian identity, culture and tradition. Olive cultivation provides employment and income for around 100,000 farming families. Most are small-scale olive oil producers in need of investment to improve their fields. In the West Bank, 45% of the agricultural land is dedicated to olive production.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 8: Both water resources and power supplies are serious topics in the Palestinian territories. As both of these resources are controlled by Israel, there are often water shortages and power cuts. It is estimated that Palestinians spend 30-40% of their monthly income on water.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 9: GDP per capita in the Palestinian territories is 1638 USD – compared to 19,671 USD in Estonia, for example. The poverty rate among Palestinian households in the Palestinian territories was 21.4% in 2010. Palestinian export goods are olives, fruit, vegetables, limestone, citrus, flowers and textiles. At the same time, they have to import food, consumer goods and construction materials. Exports make up 720 million USD annually, while the imports amount to 4.2 billion.

10 Facts about Palestine

Fact # 10: Among Palestinian children, 89.4% receive primary education and 80.6% enroll in secondary school. Of the secondary school graduates, 30% enroll in a university. With a rate of 94.8%, literacy in Palestine is among the highest in the region. There are 49 higher education institutions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Women make up almost 54% of students at universities.