Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jerusalem Is Proud to Present (from WJFF Festival)

I preface this review is a little anecdote. Back in the summer of 2003, when I was working a telephone debt collector, I reached and mini-marandized someone who owed just a small balance, about $65. I said such, and he retorted angrily, “then why don’t you pay it for me, then?” (I didn’t.) Sounds like something out of the Bible, the sharing of burdens. It gives an insight in what some people expect of any hardline, fundamentalist religious faith. Life is unfair (Donald Trump always says that rather brazenly), life is hard, and bad things happen beyond people’s control. With a strong religious conviction and black-and-white ideas about right and wrong, it is possible to share some identity with others of the faith, and rationalize the hardships that are imposed.

Today, Sunday Dec. 9, The Washington DC Jewish Film Festival presented (at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater of the Jewish Community Center on 16th St) a screening of the sensational documentary "Jerusalem is Proud to Present" (“Yerushalaim geaa lehatzig,” 2007, Kesnet/Israel Channel 8, dir. Nitzan Gildady, in Hebrew and English with subtitles, 86 min) along with a Q&A afterwards with Special Guest: Sa’ar Netanel, Member of the Jerusalem City Council (Meretz Party), presented in Partnership with the J’s Stuart S. Kurlander Program for Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement, Co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel, New Israel Fund and Reel Affirmations. The WJFF link is here. The Jewish Quarterly link is this.

Actually, Israel has enjoyed significant GLBT Pride celebrations in Tel Aviv for some years, but the 2006 was the first major such event in Jerusalem. The film traces the difficulties encountered by Open House in putting on both the festival (in August 2006) and then in attempting a 1500 foot march. Of course, there was tremendous religious opposition, most of all from the Orthodox community that at one point has a march screaming “Woe.” But there were also many individual characters with their own stories. For example, there is the attractive Palestinian young man who police allow to cross into the Jewish quarter to go to the one gay bar (the Shushan, now closed) where he performs as a drag queen, with actually rather minimal makeup or change. Israeli police consider someone like that “safe,” yet his own Palestinian people (Hamas) eventually tell him he must leave or offer himself as a martyr. On the other hand, there is Andy Russo, an intense young man whose forearms bare the scars of past violence, and who was stabbed in a Pride event in Tel Aviv. His mother begs him not to participate, and to regard his own life and family as more important than his political causes. But such is not the way things are in the Middle East, or a lot of other places.

The film, which is quite professionally made (it seems to be in HD video, 1.85:1 and digital stereo) shows a street-level look at ordinary life in Jerusalem like few films have. It builds up real suspense, that outlasts what sound like senseless antigay harangues from the fundamentalists (who often enough are women, saying that “these people” will capture the young with AIDS). There is a confrontation in the Jerusalem city council, over whether the rule of Law can trump over religious intolerance and intimidation. People are backed into situations where they are threatened with total breakdown of the usual application of security and law. In the background, other conflicts in the West Bank and Gaza are reported, and the Israeli military must consider the diversion of resources to protect the gay events in Jerusalem. (It's interesting that Israel allows open gays to serve in its conscripted military, in contrast to the United States.) The irony is, of course, is that GLBT issues transcend religious differences, and sometimes would encourage personal bonds from both sides of the Wall, and encourage peace in the region. We are left to ponder what fundamentalism (and the belief by both sides that their tribes have God- or Allah- given rights to the land) really means to people. Marx once wrote “religion is the opiate of the masses.”

There is one curious home scene where, in the midst of crisis, three playful house cats appear, as if to make us question what the sense is of our fighting each other all the time. They don't care.

In the end, the festival is held, and the march is postponed, and then a replacement event is held for the march in an outdoor stadium which I believe is the same venue where Leonard Bernstein once conducted Mahler’s Second (the “Resurrection”). In early 2007, a short (500 meter) march finally was held, according to Netanel.

The film is said to be making the festival circuit. Let’s hope an American theatrical and cable distributor (maybe Picturehouse / HBO, for example) picks it up soon.

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