Showing it as it is

The Rega Yerushalayim film project portrays the complexity of life in the capital, in particular for its Arab residents.

The blurb about the 2009 Rega Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Moment) film project says the venture presents "seven short documentaries about Jerusalem against a backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." In fact, the films - which will be screened this Tuesday as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival - are primarily about the lot of Arab Jerusalemites and the various political, security and other logistics with which they have to contend on a daily basis. This, says project co-producer Yariv Mozer, was not premeditated. "We didn't tell the documentarists what to do or what stories to cover," he says. "Basically, they said there's nothing much going on in west Jerusalem, it's a bit boring." While declaring that the project's agenda is purely apolitical, Mozer and co-producer/artistic director Yael Perlov were fully aware of the political nature of such a venture and the minefields they were courting. "We're not taking sides here," says Mozer. "The films simply show the complexities of life in Jerusalem. Of, course there is a political side to all of this, too." This is the second Rega Yerushalayim effort, which is supported by a host of organizations including Ir Amim and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts. The content approach has changed radically compared with last year's debut event, which included action and experimental films, as well as some documentary material. "This time I insisted we focus solely on documentaries," says Perlov. "I feel it is a more accurate, more political and more vital medium that allows the filmmaker and the viewer to observe the truth with their own eyes at street level." Political sensibilities duly noted, Mozer and Perlov sifted through the ideas of 60 young Palestinian and Israeli directors, aged between 20 and 30, and eventually whittled them down. The result is seven documentaries with even personnel and thematic equilibrium and, as Perlov declared, a definitively street-level feel. Three of the films were directed by Palestinians, three by Israelis, with the seventh film co-directed by an Israeli and a Palestinian. The subjects covered by the films are life for youngsters in the Shu'afat refugee camp; the logistics negotiated by Palestinian public transport consumers; an intimate profile of late Palestinian political leader Faisal Husseini; and a delightful vignette about the "little Wailing Wall," the little-known stretch of the wall near an entrance to the Temple Mount, where the worlds of Jewish and Muslim religious observance and day-to-day life converge. "We hope and believe the films will enlighten the public in areas about which they know very little or nothing at all," says Perlov. "Very few Israelis, for example, know much about who Husseini was." Perlov says she and her colleagues wanted the project to be a collaborative effort in all aspects. "After the filming was finished, we all sat in the editing room together in Tel Aviv and edited the material together," says Perlov. "It was a lot of work but also great fun. We thought of going out to Jaffa to eat, but we ended up going to the Tel Aviv Port to eat ice cream together." But surely it could not have been all amicable. After all, we're talking about painful subject matter and about young people trying to convey some very trying elements of their lives, or their neighbors' lives, to a wider public. Perlov says there were absolutely no flashpoints en route. "There were no arguments about the topics covered in the films or about how to address them. The only debates were about professional things and form, like whether or not to add some music in a film and stuff like that - the decorative stuff, not the basic elements or premises. For the film about the Maman Allah cemetery [near Mamilla], for example, the Palestinian director [Radwan Doha] insisted on interviewing an Israeli archeologist. It was very important for Radwan to show a balanced picture of the situation." Mozer says he learned a lot from the work process - he wasn't on board last year - and that his only regret is that he, Perlov and the filmmakers had to traverse language barriers. "Unfortunately, I don't know Arabic and not everyone knew English. So we sometimes used interpreters, which was a shame." Nevertheless, Mozer and Perlov say the medium provided the main means of communication. "Art bridges all gaps," states Perlov. "We all worked together under the filmmaking umbrella." And it is not just the people behind the work who get to bridge the political-cultural divide. "At last year's screenings the audiences included Israelis and Palestinians, simply sitting side by side in the same auditorium watching the films. That's not something you can normally take for granted, but it did happen and I'm sure the same thing will happen this year, too," says Perlov. Perlov and Mozer are also hoping to take their show on the road to locations near and far. "We're putting together a package for marketing to film festivals all over the world," Perlov explains, adding however that she is most concerned about showing the films closer to home. "We want to have some screenings in east Jerusalem and at the Ramallah Cinematheque later this year. It's early days yet, but I think it is very important to show the work of filmmakers from both sides on both sides." And Perlov fervently believes the films will convey an important message to the outside world. "This year's films are very professional, and all the directors are graduates of film schools. If I didn't believe that documentaries can make a difference, I wouldn't be in this business." The Rega Yerushalayim documentaries will be screened at Auditorium 3 of the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.