In 2015 Jake Witzenfeld, an Essex born film maker, released his film ‘Oriented’, a documentary following three men, Khadar Abu Seif, Naeem Jiyres and Fadi Daeem, living in Israel who identify as Palestinian and gay.
Together with some friends, they formed a social activist group called Qambuta Productions, “Cauliflower” Productions, to raise awareness for LGBTQ rights in Israel by creating satirical music videos.
Witzenfeld documented their stories over the course of fifteen months, forming relationships with each of them, enabling an intimacy within the film that, perhaps, would not have been achieved otherwise.
This is evident when Naeem shares a letter with us, the letter which his parents will read, finding out their son is gay.
This relationship means Witzenfeld can show aspects of life that the news does not cover, which tends to focus on Arabs as the victims living in an Israeli society, but there is so much more to those who live there.
Witzenfeld films the lives of people, not of victims, chatting in Shisha bars, or dancing freely in night-clubs or simply hanging out, capturing life as a citizen with a tense political backdrop.
The film was shot in 2014, during the Israel-Gaza conflict – a word I, personally, avoid, but seems to be used to describe what is happening.
The dictionary definition of conflict is ‘a serious disagreement or argument’ which trivialises the situation. I have conflicts with my parents or conflicts between friends but I don’t think that this can be used to describe events in Israel.
It makes it sounds like a diplomatic issue, one that is being discussed and resolved, rather than one involving more than fifty years of violence and no sign of an end.
Witzenfeld does not make this the centre of the story, choosing not to explicitly mention or dramatise it, nor does he shy away from the violence.
Instead, he informs the audience by showing clips of the Israeli news bringing the harsh reality that this is their local news, happening where they live. While a segment is being filmed an air raid goes off, something that I still associate with the 1940s rather than something people our age experience regularly.
Khadar and his boyfriend, David, sit in their stairwell, calming their dog while on their phones until the siren stops. There is an overwhelming sense of reality in this clip; they just have to sit it out.
Because the film focusses on LGBTQ rights, rather than the conflict it means no black-and-white, “they are wrong, we are right” opinions are portrayed, which can often be the case.
There is no clear divide, and is naïve to think so – the conflict has gone on too long.
The narratives unfold slowly throughout the film, interjected with scenes of merriment at weddings or the beautiful landscapes throughout Israel tempting me to visit for the scenery.
Witzenfeld embraces silence and stillness, creating the appropriate atmosphere for the intimacy the audience has with Fadi, Khadar and Naeem.
‘Oriented’ is currently on Netflix, and as Khadar puts it; “We are Palestine, We are Here, and We are Queer.”