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As part of the Cape Winelands Film Festival, two leading Israeli film directors are coming to South Africa to talk about their films: Yariv Mozer with Snails in the Rain and The Invisible Men and Shelley Hermon with Within the Eye of the Storm. In addition to their screenings in Cape Town, the films will also be screened in Gauteng in the presence of the directors. DIANE DE BEER spoke (via Skype) to the two directors before they left Tel Aviv.
As a gay man himself, filmmaker Yariv Mozer was astonished when he first discovered the premise with which his docu- mentary The Invisible Men deals.
It tells about gay Palestinian men who have to flee from their homes because their families want to kill them, find refuge in Tel Aviv, but are picked up by the police and – because they’re Palestinian – are sent back home where they might be killed.
“It’s a story that wasn’t being told,” says Mozer about this bizarre life these men find themselves living.
The subject of his documentary, a Palestinian gay man, Louie, had been living this underground life being sent back many times, for 10 years. His only choice was to ask for asylum, but then he had no say over the outcome or choice of country.
“We might see another country as a happy ending, but it often isn’t,” says Mozer. These men are sent to countries with different cultures and climates to what they’re used to and it is tough to assimilate.
For Mozer it was important to tell the story. Not even the gay community in the cosmopolitan and free-thinking Tel Aviv was aware of this. It’s also not something that will be resolved because from an Israeli point of view, it is a security as well as a political issue.
As Louie poignantly points out in the documentary, people with much less attachment to the land are allowed to work there, but he has to leave. It’s an extraordinary tale of harshness in a world where life is already excruciating for so many.
Mozer’s second contribution is the fictional Snails in the Rain which also deals with people in the closet based on a short story that was published in the late Eighties.
“It’s a period piece,” he explains. “It’s the story of a man who lives with his girlfriend and starts receiving love letters from another man. It breaks open the relationships as everyone involved has to come to terms with their lives and who they are.
Telling his stories to the world, whether fact or fiction, is important, says Mozer. “People have to hear different voices from this country. I’m not a spokesperson for the government, I have my own way of thinking and how the dilemmas in our country should be resolved.”
He believes their cinema is flourishing because of government sponsorship which comes with the right of no censorship. This allows him to tell his stories freely and get yet another voice out there.
Different voices are also important to Shelley Hermon which becomes very clear in her documentary Within the Eye of the Storm. She was Israeli-born but grew up in London and only returned in her thirties.
But the issue of conflict was always part of her being and she knew she wanted to do something about it.
For her the conflict has much more to do with the psychology of the groups involved than the practicalities of the process, and that’s where her focus lies.
She wanted to include both sides – the Israelis and the Palestinians – to get the real story.
“I’ve always had a strong desire to do something,” she says.
Because of her own sense of belonging, which drew her back, she has always been attracted to issues of identity and longing.
Returning to Israel, she had distance and she could smell the fear on the pavements.
“I grew up more liberally, knew Arabs and Palestinians, and had never had problems.”
But here, most people from the Palestinian side would for example only know Israeli soldiers or security personnel while the Israelis were also familiar with the more extreme side, those they would label terrorists.
“It’s that fear of the other side,” Hermon says.
The way she grew up meant that she saw things very differently. “I love my country but I also believe Palestinians should have their freedom. I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive.”
Her documentary tells the story of two men, one an Israeli and the other a Palestinian, who are part of a group called Combatants for Peace who have as their goal communication between the two sides. “The had to put down their weapons and talk,” says Hermon.
Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan were two members who stood out immediately.
“I found their story fascinating and courageous and a unique angle through which to explore this traumatised society,” she says.
Both men had lost young daughters in the continuing war but their fight was about justice, not revenge.
“We have to deal with the wounds,” she says. But she believes these men show a different way and part of her mission is to get the word out there.
“The impact is growing,” she believes.
It’s about giving a platform to positive role models in a territory where most people have a very dark vision.
“We need that crack in the wall, we need to approach things differently and those with different voices have to be heard,” she pleads.
This is exactly what these films give you – different voices that bring insight and sometimes hope.