(Editor's note: "Out In The Dark" is showing Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 at MACSD's Digital Gym in North Park.)
(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 15th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 29 to June 2 at the historic Birch North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S.)
“Out In The Dark,” a romantic thriller shot in Israel and the Palestinian territory, will keep FilmOut San Diego audiences glued to their seats when the movie screens on Sunday, June 2 during the 15th annual LGBT Film Festival.
The film goes where few Middle East movies have ever tread: A taboo gay love affair between Nimer (Nicholas Jacob), a Palestinian grad student studying to be a psychologist, and Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer.
From the moment the movie begins, the story becomes a gripping drama encompassing all the complexities of the Israel-Palestinian political tensions and showing the wide cultural differences between the two societies with regards to how LGBT people are treated.
Adding to the suspense is that Nimer is torn between loyalty to his new Jewish boyfriend and to his Muslim family, including a brother who has embraced an extremist group that is becoming increasingly violent toward Israelis. He also has a deep-seated fear of being outed in a community that would instantly reject him. At the same time, Nimer is viewed with suspicion in Israel just because of his nationality, and even Roy’s parents aren’t exactly thrilled with their son’s love interest, as illustrated in an extremely tense Shabbat dinner gathering.
Michael Mayer makes an impressive feature film debut as director, and he co-writes the screenplay with Yael Shafrir. Mayer chats with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about his remarkable film.
SDGLN: A taboo romance is always a hot topic in movies, but here we have an Israeli man and a Palestinian man who fall in love and get caught up in the endless swirl of Mid-East conflict. How taboo is this romance in Israel today?
MM: Even though there’s more openness in Israeli society today, and especially within the gay community, a romance like this is still fairly taboo and pretty rare. Not just between two men, but between heterosexuals as well.
SDGLN: The film also touches on immigration issues and the real-world consequences of deporting LGBT people to countries where they are not accepted. Is this commonplace in Israel, and were you making a political statement with the character of Mustafa?
MM: Immigration is a complicated issue, especially in conflict-ridden areas. While refugee status is still unattainable for most Palestinians, the Israeli courts do grant temporary stay, or work permits, but they are few and far between. A few years ago the BBC estimated there were over 300 gay Palestinians hiding in Israel at any given time, and while it’s not commonplace, deportation does happen. As Palestinian society gets closer to statehood, attitudes towards LGBT people inch forward, but unfortunately cases such as Mustafa still exist.
SDGLN: The film starts with tension, and never lets go. The screenplay by you and Yael Shafrir is tremendous story-telling, suspenseful and frightening, yet tender and romantic. What is the genesis of this movie, and what is the buzz on the gay film festival circuit?
MM: A few years back I was having dinner with a friend who was volunteering at the time with the LGBT Center in Tel Aviv. He told me about the support they offered gay Palestinians and I was immediately intrigued. The idea of women and men from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict collaborating and helping each other, not out of a specific political agenda, but rather out of a shared sexual orientation and an experience of being outsiders in their own communities, really moved me. My co-writer Yael and me started researching the subject and spent months in Israel becoming familiar with people on both sides of the conflict and with the gay communities in both Palestine and Israel. The more we researched, the more we felt we wanted to tell this story, until finally we sat down to write the script for “Out In The Dark.”
The festival circuit has been such a ride. We had our world premiere last September at TIFF, the Toronto Int’l Film Festival, which was amazing, and we’ve played more than 50 film festivals since. On the gay circuit we were the centerpiece gala at the London LGBT Film Festival and won Best Picture Audience Awards at the gay film festivals in Amsterdam, Sydney, Torino and Grenoble.
SDGLN: What is the reaction to this movie by Israelis as well as Palestinians?
MM: Our Israeli premiere was at the Haifa Int’l Film Festival where we won the Best Israeli Film Award. Since then we received a wide theatrical release in Israel and stayed in theaters for more than two months. Unfortunately there is no movie theater operating in Ramallah, but we’re working on screening in alternative venues (like college campuses) in Palestinian cities.
SDGLN: Where did you shoot the movie, and why did you choose this location?
MM: We shot the film on location in Israel and Palestine because we wanted to stay authentic to the material. With permits to shoot in Ramallah taking longer to get, and some crewmembers that couldn’t cross the border; we ended up shooting the Palestinian home interiors and some street scenes in Jaffa and in small villages near Jerusalem. We only shot in Ramallah proper particular street locations that we couldn’t “cheat” elsewhere.
SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?
MM: My first goal as a filmmaker is to make a film that is both thought provoking and connects with audiences on an emotional level. However, I also hope audiences go home after watching “Out In The Dark” with the desire to learn more about the issues raised in the film.
SDGLN: Do you prefer the LGBT genre?
MM: I think a good story is a good story regardless if it’s about LGBT issues, or not.
SDGLN: Has LGBT cinema grown up, is it “crossing over” to attract mainstream audiences, or do you sense it will remain a niche product?
MM: Every few years there’s an LGBT film that manages to cross over and attract mainstream audiences, “Milk,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Bird Cage” are a few examples that come to mind, but generally speaking LGBT cinema is still relatively niche and if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, working outside of the mainstream allows freedoms you don’t usually have when working on a studio project.
SDGLN: What’s next for you?
MM: I’m currently working on a script based on a book. It’s a new process for me, adapting a book, and so far I’m loving it. It’s a really unusual detective story that takes place in the South of Ireland. Nothing to do with politics, or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict this time.
SDGLN: Single or taken?
SDGLN: Will you be coming to the FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival?
SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
SHOWING ON SUNDAY, JUNE 2
Time: 2 pm
Sponsored by SDGLN and SDPIX
Co-presented by SDJFF and Family Health Centers of San Diego
“Out In The Dark” (2012), directed by Michael Mayer, 96 minutes, Israel/U.S./Occupied Palestinian Territory
Nimer (Nicholas Jacob), a Palestinian student, is dreaming of a better life abroad. One fateful night he meets Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer, and the two fall in love. As their relationship deepens, Nimer is confronted with the harsh realities of a Palestinian society that refuses to accept him for his sexual identity, and an Israeli society that rejects him for his nationality. When his close friend is caught hiding illegally in Tel Aviv and sent back to the West Bank where he is brutally murdered, Nimer must choose between the life he thought he wanted and his love for Roy.
* Shown with “The Wilding” (2012), directed by Grant Scicluna, 15 minutes, Australia
When juvenile inmate Malcolm is offered a chance of parole, he is torn between his freedom and protecting the one he loves.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at email@example.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.