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When infidelity becomes politics – a meeting with director Muayad Alayan

In Muayad Alayan's film The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, West and East Jerusalem crash into an intricate political game when a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man have an affair. Alayan found inspiration to the story from his own life as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem.

Av 14. mar 2019

–Although it's hard to be an independent filmmaker anywhere in the world, I think it's ten times harder in Jerusalem, says 34-year-old Muayad Alayan. The director, who himself resides in Jerusalem, says that being a filmmaker is a way to get through the many hardships of being a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. In The Reports on Sarah and Saleem you get a clear insight into this. When Palestinian Saleem has an extramarital affair with the Jewish woman Sarah, he gets interrogated by Israeli intelligence and imprisoned when the details come up to the surface. Sarah basically escapes moral condemnation from the Israeli part of the population.

Like many Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Alayan, at a young age, left home in East Jerusalem to work in the more prosperous Israeli part of the city in the west. He worked at cafés and hotels and witnessed many extramarital affairs like the one we see in The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.

–It is important for me to point out that my film is inspired by real events, but by no means an adaptation of a specific story. I have had the idea for the film ever since I went to film school. When I worked in West Jerusalem myself, I saw these affairs between Israelis and Palestinians happen almost daily. Of course, such things happen everywhere in the world, but it is only in Jerusalem that something like that can be so politicized. These people take really big chances and are never far from a potential disaster.

Would you say that the consequences are equally for both Jews and Palestinians in such a relationship?

- The consequences are undoubtedly the greatest for the Palestinians. When the invasions of the West Bank began, Israeli intelligence gathered enormous amounts of data on people by raiding political headquarters and academical institutes.

Although it is Silvane Kretchner and Adeeb Safedi who play the lead roles in the film, Alayan has pointed out that in many ways the city of Jerusalem is the third protagonist in the film.

–Everything is segregated in Jerusalem, and there are two systems for everything, politically, cultural and economically. In the west, people are wealthier, many cafés, a more western feel and mainly Israeli citizens. In the east, the Palestinians have lesser space, the economic situation is tense, and everything is less modern. Palestinians take poorly paid jobs with Israeli business owners in the west, and the differences only increase.

How was it to select actors for a film that could potentially create controversy?

– I knew the Palestinian actors beforehand, while the Israeli were mostly recruited through a Palestinian agent. It was very important for me to choose actors it would be ok to work with on a political level. For example, Ishai Golan, who plays Sarah's military chief David, has played in Annemarie Jacir's Salt of the Sea and has been an active opponent of the establishment of Israeli theatres in the settlements. Silvane Kretchner (Sarah) also faced great protests from the Israeli Minister of Culture a few years ago when she played in the play My Name is Rachel Corrie, which was about the American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer.

An important topic in the film is surveillance. Was there a danger that you were being monitored during the recording of the movie?

– I really don't think it was a particular risk for it. On the other hand, I was arrested and questioned after we had recorded the scenes in Bethlehem, but that's how it is to make movies in these areas.

Which directors are you inspired by?

 – When people ask me this question, they always expect me to list only a couple of names. The thing is, I let myself be inspired by a myriad of directors and films from all parts of the world. If I have to mention a few, I would say the Dardenne brothers, Jim Jarmusch and Asghar Farhadi. I was fortunate to have a one-hour conversation with Farhadi about my previous movie, Love, Theft and other Entanglements. It was a really great experience and he was very supportive and encouraging.

In his next film project, Alayan will explore a new genre, the horror movie. The project is about a Jewish-American family moving into a house in West Jerusalem. As time goes on, the daughter in the family begins to see the ghost of a Palestinian girl who lived in the house 70 years ago.

–The film is not a horror movie in the classical sense, but rather a family drama with supernatural elements. I do not want to be genre-bounded as a director, so it is interesting to explore a new type of film in this project, explains Alayan.

In April, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem will be launched in the Middle East through a local distributor. Alayan thinks the film is going to create debate both among Israelis and Palestinians, but he points out that all good art is intended to do so.

Do you see yourself making movies outside of Palestine and Israel?

– For me, filmmaking is about develop ideas that affect me personally. It doesn’t matter if the film is set in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world. I am involved in a few projects abroad, so it will be very exciting to see what happens in the future, concludes the 34-year-old.

The film is screened three times during Arab Film Days. Read more about the film and buy tickets for the film here.