Tiger Talk #4 - Muayad & Rami Alayan

For a moment they were standing face to face, the actors of The Reports on Sarah and Saleem and the Palestinian police. The many police officers thought there was something seriously wrong, while the Alayan brothers had been working for days to get an authorization. An interview about the complexity of filming and living in Jerusalem.

Is it possible to coexist in a more complex way than in Jerusalem? Probably not. Sarah, an Israeli coffeebar owner, and Saleem, a Palestinian bread deliverer, are having an extramarital affair in The Reports of Sarah and Saleem. Not only do they get in trouble with their families, but also with the secret services on both sides. Is their affair really about passion or is it espionage?

Big hassle
Shooting a movie in Israel and Palestine is, just like the affair between Sarah and Saleem, very difficult, so the brothers Muayad Alayan (1985) and Rami Alayan (1979) have experienced. “Independent film makers always have a hard time, but here it is ten times more difficult”, says Rami. The brothers shot their film in Bethlehem, in West-Jerusalem and East-Jerusalem. The cast comes from both areas.

In casting the actors, they weren’t only looking for good acting skills. “People must be prepared to undergo the experience of making such a movie”, brother Muayad explains. “Politically they should also live on more or less the same planet. If they don’t, it doesn’t work.”

It was a bit of a hassle for both brothers, because each area has different rules and special permissions needed to be arranged. Not everyone could be there all the time, so they partly had a double crew. Muayad: “We had to change our schedule almost every day because certain areas were closed or impossible to reach.”

One day it all went wrong, the brothers recall laughing. They were all filming in East-Jerusalem and quite a few actors were wearing an army or police costume. Even though they had all the permissions, the Palestinian police arrived. They heard something was going on. “It took us a whole day to explain to them we were actually making a movie.”

In 1948 they suddenly became a sort of refugees on the other side of the city” – Muayad Alayan

Grandma’s house
The brothers grew up in East Jerusalem. But before the separation of Jerusalem, their grandparents,lived in an Israeli and Palestinian part of West-Jerusalem. “In 1948 they suddenly became a sort of refugees on the other side of the city”, says Muayad.  

“When we got our first video camera, around my eighth birthday, we visited the ruins of my grandparents’ old house with my grandmother. In the video we made there she told us what the house used to looked like. She showed it to anyone who came to visit her. Through this video, she got a piece of her old house back. Right there and then I learnt about the great impact film could have.  

With the same camera the brothers started filming. They started with jokes like a disappearing act. But they filmed more and more. Today Muayad and Rami have realized a couple of short films, a documentary and a long feature film. The Reports on Sarah and Saleem is their second long feature film.

They’ve always worked together, but the role they play may vary. Mostly they are both responsible for the production and they switch the parts of writer and director. “The last film was written by me and directed by Muayad”, says Rami.

Dangerous period
The brothers used their own life experience as an inspiration for the dramatic love story The Reports on Sarah en Saleem. They grew up during the Second Intifada in East Jerusalem. Like most Palestinians they found their first job in Western Jerusalem, where they normally weren’t allowed to come.

“Suddenly we ended up in a completely different world”, Muayad explains. “For the first time we got in touch with Israelis. Friends of mine even got into relationships with Israeli girls. At the same time it was a very dangerous period. The Israeli army organised many raids and took documents from Palestinian offices.”

As a result, many Palestinians were arrested, sometimes even without a valid reason. Some people got mixed up with others. Muayad’s geography teacher got arrested, but he’d only made maps for the Palestinian authorities, recalls Muayad.

Those events are the context of The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. But the conflict is not the main theme. “Our strategy is to tell a universal story, the location determines what happens”, says Rami. “Our world is Palestine, so our story about adultery has to do with the situation in Palestine. It’s our challenge to make films about a theme, without being too political.” 

IFFR in balance
Both brothers have visited IFFR before with another film. They have been part of Cinemart and the lab. “The great thing about International Filmfestival Rotterdam is its perfect size. It’s big but not too big, like for example Berlin”, thinks Muayad. “Everybody is here, but it is less hectic.”

“There is more interaction between audience, film makers and other people from the world of cinema”, according to Rami. “That creates a fine balance between the business side and the artistic side of the industry.”

Photo in header: Tekst: Sophie van Leeuwen & Pieter-Bas van Wiechen