‘WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW?’ follows the inspirational journey of Saar Maoz, an Israeli who was diagnosed with HIV. .
(photo credit: HEYMANN BROTHERS FILMS)
"They didn’t give up on him and he didn’t give up on them,” said Barak Heymann, co-director with his brother Tomer of the touching new documentary Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? which won the Audience Award for the Panorama Section at the Berlin International Film Festival. The movie is now playing throughout Israel.
He was talking about the subject of the film, Saar Maoz, a gay Israeli man living in London, and his nationalist religious family in Israel. Their strained relationship became even more complicated a few years ago when Saar discovered he was HIV positive.
The film chronicles his gradual reconciliation with his family, as well as well as the conflict he experiences between his longing for Israel and the joy he takes in living in London, where the London Gay Men’s Chorus, a group he performs with, became a kind of second family to him.
Talking about the festive world premiere of the film in Berlin, where Saar’s family came to celebrate, Heymann said, “One of his sisters said, ‘You need to understand, we are from a different world, a small place that is conservative and religious. We had no idea until recently what goes on outside and because of Saar, we opened up and grew up.’” The fact Saar admitted he contracted HIV during a period of promiscuity, when he was upset over a broken love affair, made it especially difficult for his family when they learned about his diagnosis. It seemed to prove to them that he was being punished for his sexual orientation, and they were fearful that he would inadvertently infect their children with the virus.
“Their fear of that is exaggerated and a little primitive, it comes from ignorance... But they are not different from most people, most people feel that way. I have respect for them. They have something that I love because they are not politically correct, and they are straightforward. They are people who know how to love, they are very emotional,” said Heymann.
The family’s honesty about their feelings creates a basis for a dialogue between them and Saar that eventually leads them back together. Had they hidden their feelings, he might not have been able to get close to them again.
“His father is a military man, tough and old fashioned, with all his army stories and army songs. But he came to Berlin [for the premiere]... I very much appreciate him, even though he says some things that are very disgusting about gays, but it’s important to have this discussion with people who are not politically correct... Most people are not able to open up the way the father does,” says Heymann.
Saar’s mother, who bursts into tears often during a visit to London shown in the film, had perhaps an even harder time coming to terms with her son’s diagnosis.
“His mother is much braver than me,” says Heymann. “The movie is about the ability and need to solve crises and conflict through communication that I wouldn’t think you could solve. They are able to look each other in the eyes and say what is bothering them... That is what is so moving and so interesting... They came to Berlin to be with him and show that they are against the prejudice and ignorance, they are proud. They grew and changed.”
Saar has now been back in Israel over a year, working with an organization that promotes AIDS awareness here. The Heymann brothers, who knew Saar slightly before they started the film, worked on it for over five years. They partnered with several producers and funds from abroad and from Israel in order to make the costly film, which required the production to travel back and forth between Israel and London.
While the scenes of Saar singing with the chorus are wonderful – “You could make a film just about the chorus” – the music rights for the songs the chorus performs in the film were quite pricy but, Heymann feels, essential. The movie was supported by the British Film Institute Film Fund, as well as funds from Finland, Sweden and the French-German company ARTE. Israeli funding came from Keren Makor, the Gesher Fund, Keren Avi Chai and Channel 8.
The Heymann brothers, who write, produce and direct movies together, also come from a large, close-knit and complicated family, and felt that they could relate to the family in the movie. The prolific filmmakers have made more than 18 documentaries, among them Paper Dolls (2006), about a group of transvestite Filipino caregivers in Tel Aviv who perform a cabaret act, and, most recently, Mr. Gaga, a movie about the Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, which won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival.
Heymann said that Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? “started from one place and ended up in a different place... we didn’t think Saar would come back to Israel. It took us to different places from what we imagined.”