When I spoke with first time Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud back at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, her narrative feature In Between (or Bar Bahar in Arabic) was just about to premiere at the prestigious festival. As with any new director, she had no idea what the response would be or what the coming year would bring. But her film’s path has been particularly unpredictable, leading to three awards in San Sebastian, Hamoud being hand-chosen by Isabelle Huppert to receive the Young Talents Award at Cannes, and being issued the first religious Fatwa in Palestinian history.
So how did it all begin? With a touching and dry comedic relationship drama about three girlfriends living in the city. It could be a million other formula films, except that the girlfriends are Arab Palestinians and the city is majority-Jewish Tel Aviv, and the universal issues that they are dealing with—love, career, friendship—are all underwritten by both inner-cultural and inter-cultural tensions and the constant pull between tradition and maternity. It’s a modern day Palestinian-Israeli story that we have never seen on film.
"I live this life, so I know the price we have to pay."
The three leads—two of whom had never acted—are the uber-independent hipster lawyer Laila, the lesbian Salma who is not yet out to her traditional Christian parents, and the observant, headscarf-wearing Muslim woman Nour, who becomes Laila and Salma’s roommate. As you can see, Hamoud does not shy away from the complexities of the region in her script, which she says that she has lived herself. Its frank portrayal of these realities is surely partly to blame for the Fatwah against Hamoud and her movie.
In our fascinating conversation, Hamoud shares her methods for trying to make audiences see themselves in her characters, working with non-actors, bonding with her producer Shlomi Elkabetz (one of the most celebrated Jewish filmmakers in Israel), and what it was like to make the first film of its kind in her community.
Listen to the episode by streaming or downloading from the embedded player above, or find it on iTunes here.
This episode was produced and edited by Jon Fusco.