Meet Muayad and Rami Alayan, the director and producer behind the grassroots film Love, Theft and Other Entanglements. Their film follows the story of Mousa, a Palestinian man with a wrecked love affair, looking to raise enough money so that he can pay for his exit visa to leave the country. When Mousa tries to steal a car to sell, he discovers a kidnapped Israeli soldier in the trunk, putting him in lots of trouble and on the run from both Palestinian militias and Israeli intelligence. We had the opportunity to ask the brothers some questions about their experience as filmmakers and their new film.
Arab Film Festival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
Muayad: I participated in a filmmaking workshop in high school, after that I decided this is what I wanted to do. Growing up under occupation in Jerusalem, cinema and filmmaking was a medium to create, reflect and self express without (hopefully) getting imprisoned.
Rami: For me it was all about storytelling. I went to school for engineering just because in the middle east you grow up with a pressure to do what can secure a living. But as I grew up I realized the Palestinian experience remains largely untold and this drew me to storytelling and in that domain cinema is the most visual and I found that compelling. I have to say that I also always loved the process of making things that can make a difference and can have a life of their own after the process of making them is over. Having a finished film that is the product of your work at the end of the lengthy filmmaking process is very rewarding.
AFF: How does your culture influence your work?
Muayad & Rami: We think as Palestinians growing up very aware of all the efforts and agendas that have been imposed on the world (particularly media, audio visual, etc.) to suppress the Palestinian identity and the Palestinian narrative. So in one way we grew up among a generation that was trying to resist that through film, story, digital media and the arts. After several years we think we have succeeded due to the efforts of the first and second generations of filmmakers to get our narrative more and more out there. Now the challenge for us, we think, is to make Palestinian cinema thrive and sustain itself. It is very important to produce film and produce art in Palestine. It is very important to contribute and be present in world cinema, literature, theater, music and other. It is very important to reach out to audiences around the world, festivals, theaters, televisions, and all other platforms. And we still have an immense reserve of human stories and universal human experiences that have not been told.
On the impact of culture on production style, I think the collaborative and community solidarity nature of Palestinian culture is our strength and our richness particularly when financing and funds for cinema and the arts are not available. I always say making a film in Palestine is like the village wedding; people come together to build sets, dress the stars, put the lights up, fill all the roles and responsibilities. It takes a village to make a film and sometimes in Palestine that is quite literal due to the limited resources and funds. Your friends and family make up a big part of the production team. Each contributing with what they know how to do.
AFF: What advice do you have for young Arab filmmakers?
M&R: Learn how the industry works, improve your storytelling skills, watch as many movies as you can from all over the world and from all cinematic styles, and read every script you can get your hands on. Do not compromise on your dreams even if you had to just go out make your films yourself. Limitations can be a reason to find creative solutions.
AFF: You had a very successful crowdfunding campaign for this film. How did it affect your approach to telling this story?
M&R: It did not… The crowdfunding campaign we did was when we were in post-production. The story had already been written and the film had already been shot.
AFF: What was the inspiration for this story?
M&R: We think every Palestinian at a certain moment, even if for a split of a second, has considered running away somehow due to the depression and frustrations caused by long years under occupation, the failure and corruption of the political leadership, and the feeling of being in limbo.
We wanted to tell a story of a regular, average character that is not the stereotypical character found in Palestinian films or films about Palestine. He is not the national hero, nor national traitor. He is not the victim, nor the evil antagonist. We wanted to create a very simple everyday character that is trying to pursue a better life but does it by taking the shortcut of stealing cars and in doing so gets dragged down deeper and deeper in his own personal troubles and in the political mess of the conflict. Mousa is an everyday anti-hero… a car thief that we all don’t really like but he gets into troubles bigger than himself and ends up trying to redeem himself from his past.
AFF: I’ve seen you describe this film as “a drama, thriller and fairytale”. A drama and thriller can be easily surmised from the trailer alone, what about your film makes it a fairytale?
M&R: It is not a fairytale in terms of having fairies and magic. It is a fairytale in as far as its theme, characters and feel or style. The film tries to depict the collective Palestinian experience under occupation with characters representing all parties involved: Israeli agents, Palestinian militias, corrupt officials, foreign diplomats and everyday impoverished people through a series of events and coincidences that, individually, could very well happen in Palestine but collectively give a fairytale feeling representing the overall situation in the country while following the central conflict or problem of the story. Thematically, the film tells a story about a commonly shared dystopic and frustrated situation Palestinians live in, where the biggest aim in life for many is to leave and for some that’s by whichever means possible. But under all that loss of hope, when things get tough there is still underlying hope and an untapped sense of attachment to the land and to loved ones.
Stylistically, we went with a minimal look that distills away all the unnecessary details that are commonly seen coming out of Palestine in the news and documentaries. We wanted to focus the style on the essential story and not the specific details of imagery. That’s why the film is in black and white and we used minimal sets and props. All that helps de-emphasize the specific time and place of the events adding to the fairytale feeling.
AFF: What would you like audiences to take away from “Love, Theft and other Entanglements”?
M&R: In terms of story: we in Palestine live in a very frustrated and absurd time where everyday life is full of moments that make us cry but also absurdities that make us laugh. We live in a time where old hopes are fading or have faded but we can still tap into the old ideals of dedication to the land and to our loved ones.
In terms of production style: This was very much a self-produced film that’s the collective effort of Palestinian artists and their families and friends. It was a very low budget production. It was also an experiment to validate that independent production of narrative films in Palestine, with all the local limitations and absence of resources and financing, is possible. (Traditionally independent production has been only true of documentaries. Narrative films in Palestine have been international co-productions). For us as filmmakers that fact that the film was successfully made and got to be part of many great festivals worldwide is a great hope for the future that Palestinian cinema may be able to incorporate multiple styles of production to help create a local film industry and a cinematic ecosystem. It is important to add that national cinema can only grow with the growth and support of its audiences. And in Palestine this communal support is that much more essential for Palestinian cinema to continue and to grow.