An imprisoned woman creates magic and color for her child who knows nothing about the outside world — like the awards season favorite “Room,” the Palestinian drama “3000 Nights,” pictured, is about a woman who finds her strength through resilience and resistance. It marks the feature debut of acclaimed documentary helmer Mai Masri and makes its Arab-world premiere as part of the Muhr feature competition at the Dubai Intl. Film Festival.

The Nablus-born, California-trained Masri was inspired by the true story of a young Palestinian mother who gave birth to her son in an Israeli prison during the 1980s. “Because the events took place so many years ago, the best way I could bring the story to life was to recreate it as a narrative with a location, characters and drama,” says Masri. “I wanted to give myself the freedom to explore the imagination and inner world of my characters. I also wanted my audience to live the story in real time with the emotion, passion and imagination that a dramatic fiction film can evoke.”

Still, Masri’s documentary background helped her dig deeper into the story and connect it to real events. She interviewed other former prisoners who had delivered their children in Israeli prisons. “I was drawn by the idea of how these mothers raised their children together with the other women prisoners forming a community of motherhood,” she notes.

Shooting in a former military prison in Zarqa, near Amman, Jordan, added an authentic visual dimension that a studio would not be able to reproduce. “The oppressive atmosphere of the prison, with its thick concrete walls and rusty iron bars, also created a powerful dramatic and psychological framework for the actors and helped ground their performances in the reality,” says Masri.

Since the pic’s world preem at Toronto this fall, it has been a sought-after festival item, screening in Busan, London, Stockholm and Valladolid, where it won the audience award. It will open in Palestine in January.

Masri is currently working on a new screenplay for a fiction film. “Although the story is quite different from ‘3000 Nights,’ it resembles it in its theme of a woman fighting to find her inner strength. I also have two documentary projects that I would like to shoot in the next year or so,” she says.