Meet New Day: Michael Rowley
I am a Dallas-based documentary filmmaker who focuses on underrepresented stories to bring awareness, equity, and justice to our interconnected and global society. My work is often described as experiential, emotionally-driven and defiant.
My debut documentary feature film, Hurdle, is a visceral look at two Palestinian young men as they navigate life under military occupation and strive to lead the next generation to find freedom. Harnessing the sport of parkour (an acrobatic gymnastics-based sport) and the art of photography, the characters leap across the screen and find self-determination in an environment that is pitted against them. Filmed over the course of a year, Hurdle documents what life looks like beyond the headlines of this contested region and gives audiences the chance to walk in the shoes of these inspiring young men. We see the direct effects of policy on their lives and view their everyday struggles against a backdrop of their hopes and dreams.
I grew up in Amarillo, a small Texas town about 7,000 miles away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my experience, there was a lack of understanding of the complexities of the topic, yet an unquestioning support for all Israeli policy. As I grew up and went through a deconstruction and reformation of my worldview, I realized the immense injustices that Palestinians have faced for generations. In many ways, this film is a letter to my younger self, addressing some of the toxic and ill-informed stereotypes that people can have about Palestinians. I hope that Hurdle helps people understand the beauty, complexity, and common needs we all have for security, dignity and freedom and inspires all of us to take steps to create a more just world.
Hurdle is an experiential film in the verite style. I don’t list facts, "ask the experts,” or build a case in either direction. Instead, I strive to have the characters establish an emotional connection with the audience to build empathy. It took a lot of patience and presence to make a film this way, but audiences continue to be moved as they get to know the characters deeply. It is difficult to find accounts or publications in mainstream media that convey this type of in-depth look at what life is like on the ground for Palestinians. I am happy and proud that Hurdle accomplishes this to a degree.
I've been so excited to watch as Hurdle sparks important conversations at international films festivals, in classrooms, and at presentations by non-profit organizations and faith groups. I think the film allows people the space to feel something, be conflicted without devolving into anger, and come together to discuss some hard truths about experiences outside of our own. Hurdle not only has had an impact on communities around the world, it also continues to reshape my own personal outlook and teach me valuable lessons.