Love in troubled times

David Fisher’s latest documentary is a complex story about how the filmmaker’s son decided to go to school on what used to be the frontline between Bosnians and Croatians.

Mostar 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mostar 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘If these youngsters can talk to each other in this school, then there is hope for us here,” says director David Fisher, in an interview at the Jerusalem Film Festival after the first screening of his latest documentary, Mostar Round-Trip. The film, which is playing at cinematheques throughout the country, will also be broadcast on Channel 2 on August 28.
This complex film details the journey of Fisher’s son, Yuval, who decided at age 16 that he wanted to study abroad, and finished high school in a United World College school in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was on the border between the Bosnians and Croatians in the bitter civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Fisher uses the film to explore Mostar itself, the connections among the students at the school (where Israeli Jews and Arabs study with Bosnians and room with each other), and, most important, his relationship with his son and how it evolves when his son is far from home.
Initially, Fisher was not enthusiastic when his son (who attended the film’s premiere in a T-shirt imprinted with the words, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”) said he wanted to study abroad.
“I thought, What did I do wrong?” he says. He did not help Yuval in his quest to find a school, but he didn’t stand in his son’s way. When Yuval chose Mostar from the roster of United World College’s campuses (his other options included Hong Kong, Italy and dozens of other countries), Fisher was apprehensive.
“I felt about Bosnia the way people from abroad think about Israel.”
But, realizing that his son needed to settle in, he waited a decent interval before showing up with his camera. Yuval accepted his filmmaker father’s presence, especially since his father gave him final cut approval: “I told him he could participate in the editing, that he would have the right of cutting the film.”
Part of what led Fisher to the project was that, for years, his relationship with Yuval had been troubled: “In Israel, people would tell me, it’s so wonderful to talk to Yuval, but with me, he wouldn’t talk. He was always on his computer. But when he went away, I became part of his virtual world. We are both night owls, so we would see that we were both online late at night and we would talk.”
FISHER, WHO discovered much about his own father while working on a documentary about him, soon felt that he needed to go to Mostar and visit his son’s new world.
The other Israeli students at the school become characters in the film, especially Niva, who was initially appalled to find herself stuck in Bosnia, and Salam, Yuval’s roommate, an Israeli Arab who is a selfstyled playboy and heartbreaker.
Inevitably, the Israelis get into political arguments with their international fellow students, and with each other, particularly since part of the film was made during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.
Seeing Yuval engage in political discussions was a revelation for his father.
“I felt I went to meet someone new,” says Fisher.
“I was impressed at how he could be warm and open with Salam, but could also argue with him and not give up on his opinions. And that after a fight, when he saw Salam was tired, he could give him sugar and a hug.”
Fisher also got to know a different side of his son as he spent time with Yuval and his Spanish girlfriend, Neus.
“As a father, you are usually not there to see your child fall in love. But here, I got to be around them. It was a peek into another world. When they said goodbye, I saw that this is a man parting from a woman. It was very special.”
Not surprisingly, at times Yuval found his father’s presence – and his father’s camera and camera crew – intrusive. Fisher was reminded of a long struggle between the two over making movies, and found clips of Yuval as a very young child, telling his father to stop filming and push him on a swing.
“I realized that with children, however much you give is not enough. They always want more. I felt I’m coming there, coming all this way to see him, but he felt at times it was just that I wanted to make a film.”
They talked all of this out, both on camera and off.
“I didn’t completely understand how many questions I had for him,” says Fisher.
“But through watching him make his way in a different, very complex country, build relationships with other Israelis, with Salam, with his girlfriend, I saw that we were creating circles that eventually connected.
“The film was like a ballet,” says Fisher.
“We come together and we separate. We get angry at each other and we forgive each other. There is a process going on here, and it’s still going on.”