Oriented is a new film by Jake Witzenfeld which had its first London screening on June 3rd as part of Pride in London 2016. The screening was organized by Aritha Wickramasinghe, a lawyer at K&L Gates, formerly one of the organizers of the Clifford Chance Pride exhibitions (which I curate). The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring one of the film's stars Khader Abu Seif, along with the director, and film producer Hanan Kattan.
The film is a fly on the wall documentary of three ordinary young gay men who live in the extra-ordinary world that is the bifurcated society of Tel-Aviv. Khader, Fadi Daeem and Naeem Jiryes are Palestinians living in Israel and often make love across the religious fault line. Fadi is the most outspoken Palestinian nationalist and is conflicted by his desire for a Jewish soldier (who we do not see). Their relationship causes him as much pain as pleasure, and one of their women friends tells him to enjoy life - that it is not an ideology, neither is the film, much to its credit. Witzenfeld, the director, is a straight white Jewish man and it is amazing the trust he has with these men whose lives are constantly at risk, from within their community and the falling bombs.
In one scene Khader and his Jewish boyfriend cower on the floor as bombs go off around them as they try to comfort their dog (a Dalmatian called Otis) who whines and cries in fear. The attack takes place during the 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict and is a horrible scene to watch. It is made all the more bizarre by its modernity - Khader is seen texting away on his phone as the room shakes. The whole of the movie could be one long selfie were it not for the stern editing of Witzenfeld who keeps these three life stories moving along at the pace of a blockbuster. Khader is from a 'prominent Muslim mafia family' and he breaks down crying when his friend Fadi is shown love and acceptance on screen by his (Fadi's) father. Khader longs for such acceptance but knows he will not get it nor would his family take to David his Jewish lover who is a promoter of LGBT clubs and events.
Khader and Fadi are both out to their families while their friend Naeem is not. Over the months he finds an inner strength to tell his parents - by letter. We do not see them read it nor do we see Naeem with his family again. They obviously are not pleased, but we do hear they are at least not gunning for him, a real possibility in many places where homosexuality is seen as a sin against religion. On April 25 of this year two LGBT rights activists were murdered in Bangladesh, and a gay youth was stoned to death in Jamaica last March, and then there are the mad men called ISIS.
Many in the West are unaware of the problems for LGBT youth outside of the EU. America is still a hot bed of religious hatred for LGBT people and recent discriminatory laws have been passed under the guise of religious freedom. But even in the UK it is still difficult to be the only gay in the village or at least to feel that way if you are not brought up in London or another large metropolitan area. Even within the M25 if your parents are very religious and you live in a religious community, it might be very hard for you to come out to your family. Oriented shows the tensions between wanting to be true to yourself, and to also stay within the love of such a religious family.
These three best friends are not passive about their situation and form Qambuta a cultural resistance group that makes videos for Youtube about their situation. You can see these videos now but will have to wait until June 21 for the ITUNES launch. Oriented is another film with a small budget that tackles big questions and is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. I found all three of the men to be fascinating and living rich, if not fully free lives, but then who amongst us can say more of our own?
Images courtesy: Oriented