Wednesday, 31 March 2010

LGBT Iranian and Palestinian/Israeli films debut

Source: Moviefone

By: Tim Macavoy @ London Lesbian + Gay Film festival

You may remember Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad proclaiming that there were "no homosexuals in Iran". Well director Bahman Motamedian has something to say about that with Khastegi (Sex My Life).

Currently, in Iran, it is more acceptable to live as the opposite gender, than to be homosexual, which is actually punishable by death. And so a large number of couples choose for one of them to transition. That's not to say that in all trans cases this is the reason, but it points to a sad indictment that in order to keep love, they must unwillingly change gender.

Seven young transsexuals struggle with their identities in Tehran, amidst a forceful and patriarchal Iranian society. This film is categorised as "documentary", although it is mostly acted and scripted, employing some documentary style techniques. It may meander along fictional lines, but that doesn't make it any less true, informative and compelling, funny and tragic.

The genetically female taxi driver who identifies as male is potentially a work of comic genius, were it not for the fact that real people do struggle in these situations. But I couldn't help but laugh as she confronts her 'betrothed' with the line: "next time you want to get married, see the bride first. Do you really want to marry this?"

Korean-American Buddhist Yun Suh has chosen the lgb people of Israel and Palestine as the subject of her first feature documentary in City of Borders. "Why?" you may ask. Well, I did too. So I asked, seemed like the sensible thing to do.

Yun Suh says that she was working as a journalist in Jerusalem when she kept seeing the same phone number written on walls around the city. Graffiti claimed that this man was responsible for earthquakes and plague, and that everyone should call him. So she did. But instead of cursing him with death threats (as he was used to) she started a conversation and discovered the man was called Sa'ar, the first openly gay city council member, and owner of the only gay bar in Jerusalem, Shushan.

And so begins a brilliant documentary about the uniting force of being an outcast in a perpetual warzone.

"Here's a group that's been cast away by both sides, but is modelling for a larger society what tolerance and co-existence can look like" say Suh.

Apart from the extraordinarily brave Sa'ar, this group consists of Boody, a young Palestinian who crosses the border into Israel "not to make bombs" as he says, but to party at the Shushan. He finds an accepting community in the bar and becomes "the first Queen of Palestine, Miss Haifa", his drag name. Sadly Boody is forced to leave the country due to death threats, and moves to America (where he can face such enlightened comments as: I've been to Palestine...well Morocco").

Exemplifying the opposition and potential union of Israel and Palestine are lesbian couple Samira and Ravit, who come from different sides of the border, but fell in love as co-workers. Suh found Samira easily because she is an outspoken activist, and adds intelligence, humour and guts in abundance to this feature.

I know a few film makers in Tel Aviv, which is so liberal and cosmopolitan, it's practically an West European city, and so it was interesting to see the biggest tension within the gay community was not necessarily between Jew and Arab, but old and new world. The fleeting glimpse we get of Tel Aviv, shows a modern community that cannot understand the marches in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as they just cause violence. But the lgb people of the West Bank do not want to move away and leave what they see as an essential part of their identity behind.

Shushan is now closed, but it's legacy clearly remains. A detailed, informative and hugely funny documentary I'm sure you will enjoy.
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