In the West Bank refugee camp of Balata, a young Palestinian girl named Walaa dreams about joining the local police force. She’s only 13, her brother Mohammad is 11, and the two live with an aunt because their mother is in prison. Once Walaa is in the police force, she gets to have a gun and be in charge of her own life. She won’t have to answer to a man or ask permission to go her own direction. For the free-spirited teenager, it’s a dream come true.

Directed by Christy Garland, What Walaa Wants follows this young Palestinian girl as she lives in Balata, grows into adulthood, and attends basic training to become a member of the police. As a child, Walaa is at least a tad incorrigible, always sticking her nose around and causing problems. She’s also an obvious product of her surroundings – casually recounting an assassination or bombing to her aunt as if it was a key plot element on an episode of Game of Thrones. Above all, one thing is clear: Walaa is an individualist.

As one can imagine, this single fact makes boot camp a challenge.

Walaa has a hard time keeping a straight face while training at the military forces camp. She runs up against multiple disciplinary actions, isn’t great at running or marching or following orders, and sometimes feels like she has made a terrible decision. In her face, we sometimes see a young person realizing that their dreams are about to die, and other times we see a fierce determination to go on. Garland’s camera is a fly-on-the-wall, with very few direct-to-camera interviews or other departures from the story.

There’s more to this Palestinian girl’s story, but at the end of the day, What Walaa Wants is a fascinating look at following one’s dreams while remaining true to one’s self.

Tuesday, May 1, 6 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Thursday, May 3, 6:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Frisday, May 4, 3 PM, Hart House Theatre