This is a guest post by Sheila Regan, a freelance writer and theater artist living in Minneapolis. She frequently writes for TC Daily Planet, Patch.com, and contributes to City Pages’ Dressing Room blog, among other publications.
Love During Wartime, which plays at the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Film Festival on Wednesday (today), May 4th at 6:30 p.m., is a documentary by Jewish filmmaker Gabriella Bier about a couple torn between their two religions and countries.
Throughout the film, Bier follows an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who make the decision to wed without the support of their families. Faced with prejudices at home, they travel to Europe, only to find new challenges. Here is an interview with Bier about how she came to make this film, and what she learned along the way.
TC Jewfolk: How did you get the idea to make this film?
Gabriella Bier: It came from rage. It was the beginning of the 2nd Intifada in 2001. I was surrounded by people from the left and by people from my own, Jewish, background. The two groups had one thing in common; they totally dismissed the efforts made by the different peace groups whose aim was to bring peace to the region. Both groups said; ”Ah, that’s how they are, the Arabs/Jews/Palestinians/Israelis, what can you expect from people like that?” It was all very emotional. They ridiculed every effort made towards reconciliation. That attitude prompted me to act. It is easy to understand the Other in more peaceful times. It is really very difficult during wartime– that is when your convictions are tested.
I strongly felt that until then, all the wars, conflicts, hate, and fear had changed nothing in the region. So many films have been made about the wall, about the West Bank, about the conflict. I wanted to do something else, and that was hard. There are many fantastic documentaries made by Israelis and Palestinians about the region. But my idea was to make a love story.
This idea didn’t come out of the blue. I myself live in an mixed marriage, I am married to a Christian and although my experience is not even close to the struggles Jasmin and Osama are going through, I felt I had some kind of insight.
I also felt from a cinematic POV that forbidden love, love between enemies is more exciting than any kind of love. It is filled with a dramatic tension that just works so well on film.
TCJ: What is your personal connection to the subject matter?
GB: Israel and Palestine has been a part of my life since I was born, because I’m Jewish. Before I started making documentaries I traveled for many years in countries on the African continent and worked as a journalist. My parent’s friends always told me: “You have to write about Israel,” but for a long time I felt that I really didn’t want to get involved because it was too emotional for me. But with the 2nd Intifada I felt I had no choice.
So Israel and Palestine—it’s always been discussed in my family . . . so it’s very personal. And sensitive.
TCJ: What do you think causes groups of people to hate? Or, What divides us?
GB: This is a difficult one. I’m not a politician; I’m a filmmaker, so most of my insights come from my own experience. But one thing I noticed travelling a lot to Israel and Palestine was that separating people was an excellent way to keep hatred burning. The only thing Palestinians and Israelis see of each other is when they’re at their worst: Soldiers in checkpoint, cruel Israelis whose main task is to single out suspicious individuals from a mainly innocent crowd of people. Can the odds for warm feelings get any worse?
When enemies actually get the opportunity to meet each other on a personal level, something in that person, how he or she perceives the other, has the chance of eventually changing hateful feelings into curiosity, sympathy.
But not meeting, people can continue being frightened and hateful. At the same time, of course, one has to understand where the hatred comes from in this specific region, war and violence is very difficult to deal with and not let you be invaded by emotions. One has to understand that.
Somewhat more difficult to understand is the hate I’ve come across making a documentary about Denmark. Danish nationalism, and islamofobia is very strong, very hateful, and has no limits as to what it is prepared to express publicly especially when it comes to Moslems. It’s a scary development and it didn’t come from a war like situation, but from a very conscious plan from the Danish People’s Party to sell a xenophobic policy. And they succeeded.
TCJ: What surprised you in following this couple?
GB [Updated 5/4, 12:15 Central]: I was quite surprised when I found out that on one side Jasmin was really angry with Israel, and on the other side Osama being very upset about Palestine. Both felt that they had been treated badly by their home countries. This was something I could only have wished for, for a film like this. Nothing I could have counted on. I liked that both of them shared this frustration. What I would have expected was that both were only against Israeli policy. I think that it takes a lot of courage to be as openly critical as Osama, normally I’d expect these feelings to be bottled up. In Jasmin’s case, although she’s had to pay a high price for her marriage, her convictions and the fact that she expresses them openly is more accepted.
The sad thing about all this is that I think that both countries require total loyalty to the idea of the nation or nation-to-be, in the case of Palestine. This makes a breach with that, a very big conflict for the individual. It’s not like saying “I hate Sweden”, the country I live in. Nobody would really react. This is the dilemma of young nations, that you try to tigh your citizens hard to being loyal, and the consequence is that it’s all to easy to be considered and outsider or even a traitor.
TCJ: What do you hope audiences come away with?
GB: For me it’s very important to communicate. Not only with them who think in terms of reconciliation and support peace efforts. No, I also want to show the film to people who for religious or political reasons think this is wrong.
My hope is that they will sympathize with Jasmin and Osama, that their love becomes the strongest impression from the film, and through those feelings, maybe have the possibility see things in a different light.
I am aware that this in many ways is a vain hope, I will have to struggle to make people see this film, but I have seen people being deeply affected. I think the reason is that normally most people manage to stay in their own little bubble and are rarely challenged in this way.
Love During Wartime, a film in Hebrew, English, German and Arabic with English subtitles shows at 6:30 pm at St. Anthony Main for MSPIFF. Learn more about the film on its Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/LOVEDURINGWARTIMEmovie.
(Photo: Mpls Int’l Film Festival)