story / Megan Laber
Jake Witzenfeld takes on sexuality and Middle Eastern conflict at LA Film Fest.
Reality show montages of evenings out and war-time documentary footage are the only visual comparisons one can make to Jake Witzenfeld’s first film that follows a group of gay young Palestinians living in Tel Aviv. To say the subject matter surrounding his premise is complicated would be an understatement.
“From one side you are this Israeli citizen, and on the other there is tension. Jake was able to capture a point of view that no one has captured before. He captured a group that is part of a bigger group, and it’s all in conflict, but this is our life. We can party and smoke and drink like hell, and then a week after you can see us exasperated or wanting to fight or demonstrate” said Khader, the young man who we find the central focus of the documentary.
Panning from scenes of Khader and his friends dancing and walking home after a night of drinking to Khader and his boyfriend taking shelter in their apartment hallway while comforting their whimpering dog during a bomb siren, the complex lives of the Middle Eastern youth culture, with their indifference to certain situations and the normalization of the effects of heightened political tension in the Middle East, become apparent and humanized in a way that news footage and digital journalism have not been able to capture.
“Welcome to Tel Aviv. It is nightclubs. It’s us sitting at a café, and bomb sirens going off, and us going inside and then coming back out, and continuing this interview while your coffee is still warm. This is not to say the conflict isn’t there. There are many people in permanent states of suffering, but that doesn’t mean that just because the Tel Aviv experience isn’t the Gaza experience doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need a voice. “said Witzenfeld.
Where the media coverage stops and lifestyle magazine’s images of beautiful locales for tourists to enjoy portray a still idealized setting, the film opens a dialogue with the people living in Israel’s most populated urban setting, putting heavy focus on their relationships, their nationality and the stereotypes surrounding how the two merge.
“People think we are enemies. People ask me “You are dating a Jew?” and I think to myself you need to get out of this shell. I am not dating a Jew. I am dating a person. I didn’t see my boyfriend as Jewish. He didn’t see me as an Arab. I didn’t expect to wake up next to him and say I love you in Arab. He didn’t expect me to say I love you in Hebrew. We shared our love. We didn’t care so much about language or region. We just loved each other.” said Khader
While some documentaries would leave you focused on the relationship aspects of the central subjects or the broader conflict that is given attention simply by being the environment of the film, Witzenfeld, Khader and all of his friends truly seem to collaborate to portray the outsider’s outside perspective of what is going on. It’s a fresh look into the modern state of Israel, Palestine, the religions that affect those societies and how gay youths not only make up the most controversial group in a sea of bias, but now due to this film, become the loudest voice for hope and change, even if that change is merely shifting the perception and dialogue around the Middle East and homosexuality.