Talk about bridging the gap.
The Brooklyn Israel Film Festival turns 10 this year, and it is heading into its teen years appropriately, with the addition of some edgy programing. “Out in the Dark,” which screens at the festival on Jan. 25, chronicles the star-crossed story of a closeted gay Palestinian who falls in love with an Israeli lawyer.
The movie has an obvious political tint, but the director and co-writer said it is first and foremost a love story.
“At first, we thought we would make a movie that was way more politically oriented,” said Michael Mayer. “It was not until we actually met with people and couples when we realized we wanted the politics to take a backseat.”
Mayer, who moved to Los Angeles from Israel in 1994, said he decided to make his feature directorial debut about a star-crossed gay couple after having dinner with a friend from his home country who had been volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Tel Aviv and helping gay Palestinians in need of sanctuary.
“I had no idea that there were gay Palestinians living in Israel who would receive support from Israel human rights groups,” he said. “There is a fairly substantial, or clearly large amount, of gay Palestinians hiding in Israel at any given time — and they don’t want to go back.”
The director said he flew to Israel in 2011 and shot for 25 days after conceiving and battling over the script with his co-writer Yael Shafrir, who is Palestinian. Though they had a few political disagreements during the drafting process, Mayer said that their different beliefs ultimately added a sense of balance to the film, which has since been screened at the Toronto Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, and more than 100 other events.
“No film can be completely unbiased, obviously, as hard as we try,” Mayer said. “It is not really leading to one side or another. It does not present either side as being too nice.”
Mayer recalled one Lebanese man who tearfully praised the film for delivering an almost identical portrait of his life as a gay man whose family is unsupportive of his sexual orientation.
“He said, ‘I wish I could bring my family to see this, but they would never be willing to see something like this,’” Mayer said. “We have had some touching reactions, which is really nice.”
The festival, which kicks off Jan. 23, will also screen “Life in Stills,” a documentary about a 96-year-old woman’s mission to save a photo archive of Israel’s defining moments, and “Fill the Void,” a film about an ultra-Orthodox Israeli woman pressured to marry her widowed-brother-in-law, which won “Best Film” at the Israeli Academy Awards.
“Out in the Dark” at the Kane Street Synagogue [236 Kane St. between Tompkins Place and Court Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 875–1550, www.kanestreet.org], Jan. 25 at 8 pm. $12.