Vital Voices: Manal Yaish Zraiq

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Aaron Kisner

Is there a particular video, film, campaign or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Pedro Almodovar and Baz Luhrmann are both important influences for me.


What motivated you to make this film?

I began making films with Vital Voices Global Partnership because I was excited by the idea that stories about women leading in unexpected circumstances could change the way audiences thought about women’s leadership and women, in general.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

We worked primarily with a Canon 5D, minimal lighting and reflectors.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

This film is stylistically very simple so that the attention remains on the speakers and their status as real people.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

When we began filming, we thought we were telling a much broader story about business leadership and how women approach business in unique and exciting ways. As we went along though, we couldn’t ignore the huge accomplishment of envisioning, developing, and building a city under incredibly difficult conditions. It became a metaphor for manifesting any dream or goal, and most of the rest of the diverse business elements were stripped out of the edit to allow the singular story to come through clearly.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

For me, it was extremely rewarding to meet and talk with people living and working in the West Bank. I found that the image we receive in the news media paints a simplistic picture when there is a much more detailed reality.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

An issue is rarely the story. Stories are about people. The issues become clear through people.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

I really enjoy editing because I feel like it’s my opportunity to capture and pass on what I love about each of the characters in the story.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A pen or pencil. Ideas come flying at me too quickly to remember. I have to make notes as things come up (or at least soon afterwards).


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

Each and every person we interviewed for this film invited us for coffee. While I know that’s culturally to be expected, I still enjoy and very much appreciate the gesture.


Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

Politics in the region can be an obstacle. A representative of Vital Voices who traveled with us had to enter Ramallah from Jordan because of her family background, while the rest of the crew traveled from Israel. Her journey took a full day longer. Everyone involved in making the film, including everyone we interviewed, understood that a desire for prosperity transcends politics, but almost every interaction we had with others involved a question of our political “agenda.”


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I hope that audiences will recognize that there is hope for a peaceful and prosperous outcome of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict. Even more importantly, I hope that they will see that the best solutions come from local leadership.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

What is the role of business in shaping the character of a society? How do conflict and peace impact business, opportunity, and individual prosperity? If obstacles are a part of life can overcoming them become a practice rather than a dramatic event?


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Manal Yaish Zraiq has continued her mentorship of young women entrepreneurs and served as a Vital Voices Global Ambassador. After years of obstacles, Rawabi finally opened to residents and businesses.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

On a general level, I think it’s extremely important to tell stories of positive accomplishments. People can also aid in the development of more women leaders by supporting Vital Voices Global Partnership.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):,



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