Love During Wartime has its North American premiere in the World Documentary Competition of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
In the film, Jasmin and Assi are newlyweds, but building a life together seems impossible: She’s an Israeli, he’s a Palestinian. When their homelands turn their backs on them, they choose to live in exile. This tender tale of a love infiltrated by politics follows a real-life Romeo and Juliet on their odyssey from the Middle East through an inhospitable Europe. As their hopes rise and then fade with each bureaucratic hurdle, will their love survive?
Interview with director Gabriella Bier
VIMOOZ: What brought you to make a documentary on this subject?
GB: Rage. It was the beginning of the 2nd Intifada in 2001. I was surrounded by people from the left and by people from my own, Jewish, background. The two groups had one thing in common; they totally dismissed the efforts made by the different peace groups whose aim was to bring peace to the region. Both groups said; ”Ah, that’s how they are, the Arabs/Jews/Palestinians/Israelis, what can you expect from people like that?” It was all very emotional. They ridiculed every effort made towards reconciliation. That attitude prompted me to act. It is easy to understand the Other in more peaceful times. It is really very difficult during wartime– that is when your convictions are tested.
I strongly felt that until then, all the wars, conflicts, hate, and fear had changed nothing in the region. So many films have been made about the wall, about the West Bank, about the conflict. I wanted to do something else, and that was hard. There are many fantastic documentaries made by Israelis and Palestinians about the region. But my idea was to make a love story.
This idea didn’t come out of the blue. I myself live in an mixed marriage, and although my experience is not even close to the struggles Jasmin and Osama are going through, I felt I had some kind of insight.
I also felt from a cinematic POV that forbidden love, love between enemies is more exciting than any kind of love. It is filled with a dramatic tension that just works so well on film.
VIMOOZ: When/how did you meet the two subjects of the film, Osama (Assi) and Jasmin?
GB: In 2006. I had read an article about them in Haaretz, one of Israel’s major newspapers. A friend of mine had recommended it, and she had even got in touch with Jasmin’s father so she gave me his number and that’s how it started.
VIMOOZ: How long did the film take to make?
GB: This is a question that always make me blush and turn to lies. The answer is: too many years. Before meeting with Assi and Jasmin I had followed two other couples for quite an amount of years.
In the end, both couples declined to participate due to fear and threats. This was really painful; I was desperate, but giving up was never an option for me. It was difficult also on a practical level. These kind of couples are quite unusual, so finding them wasn’t easy.
VIMOOZ: What were some of the obstacles filming in Israel and Palestine?
GB: This is in a way funny, I’ve been given this question a lot. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the most covered conflict, by the media, in the world, so obviously it can’t be that difficult. And it wasn’t. Well of course we ran into some minor problems, it’s a conflict area. But most of the time people were very helpful and forthcoming.
What surprised me was that Germany was the tricky place to film in. The authorities never allowed us to film meetings Osama and Jasmin had with them. Even museums and shops were extremely uncooperative. Very bureaucratic and sometimes they didn’t even bother to reply to our request. Just an arrogant attitude.
VIMOOZ: As your first feature, what was your experience like making this film, especially since it spans along period of time and multiple international locations?
GB: First of all, I generally don’t like feature documentaries. Narrative films around 2 hrs most of the time have the advantage of being able to catch the audience with tension, atmosphere, moods. It’s emotional. They talk more to the heart while documentaries often talk to the brain.
Having said that, I had a big challenge in front of me, making a film that talked to the heart. Not easy.
It’s a big difference with a feature compared to shorter films if you look at how long time it takes. You travel a lot. Editing takes a long long time. But at the same time it’s a privilege to be able to work with your characters for all these years. You get to know them. I would never never have managed to make this film in just one year. Then I would have to retell a lot of history, there wouldn’t be the same dramatic arch with hope, despair, love, hope again and so on.
The last day of filming was tragedy. It broke my heart going into a new phase. I had the feeling: Will I ever have this fantastic experience again?
VIMOOZ: Are you still in touch with Assi and Jasmin?
GB: Oh yes! We talk on the phone a lot, since they live in Vienna and I live in Stockholm. After having completed the film we can actually be real friends, not this semi-professional relationship you have during the shooting. Luckily, the festivals give us a lot of opportunities to meet and hopefully we will spend some time together this summer.
VIMOOZ: Have they seen the film? What was their reaction?
GB: The first time they saw it they laughed a lot. But they really like it. I think they feel that I understood them. And I’m very happy about that.
VIMOOZ: How do you feel about your film being at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival?
GB: Of course I’m thrilled. It’s a fantastic place for our North American premiere. It’s the best place for LOVE DURING WARTIME.
VIMOOZ: What other festivals has the film been to/ which will it go to?
GB: It premiered at Cph:Dox, Copenhagen. The Swedish premiere was at Gothenburg International Film Festival, and it was shown at One World Film Fest in Prague. We have been invited to some others but it isn’t official yet.
VIMOOZ: Do you have any new projects?
GB: I’ve just finished writing a book about my emotional struggle in the making of Love During Wartime as part of a research project at the University College of Film in Stockholm. Later this spring I will start filming a documentary about how nationalism affects relations between family and friends in Sweden and Denmark.
I’ve also just started doing research for a film about fundamentalism and its fallout around the world from a super personal perspective.