65th Berlinale Interview: Muayad Alayan (Director/Co-Writer) and Rami Alayan (Co-Writer) – “Love, Theft and Other Entanglements”

media-title-Love_-98Mousa gets into the trouble of his life when he steals the wrong car. What he thought was an Israeli car and an easy way to make money in his impoverished Palestinian refugee camp turns out to be a load of misfortune when he discovers a kidnaped Israeli soldier in the trunk.

Mousa’s hopes of paying the bribe that will guarantee him an exit visa out of the country and away from his wrecked love affair dissipate as he finds himself on the run from Palestinian militias and the Israeli intelligence.

With ‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements‘ screening as part of the 65th Berlinale‘s Panorama section, we spoke with the film’s Director Muayad Alayan and its Co-Writer Rami Alayan about the debut feature film, its funding high’s and lows, as well as its black and white cinematography and more. With the Berlinale concluding, look out for ‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements‘ coming to screens soon.

Find more information about ‘Love, Theft and Other Entanglements’ at the 65th BerlinaleHERE

The film only talks about the Palestinian struggle in the background, why did you decide to make it a comedy?
Muayad Alayan: We wanted to do something that is awkward. Not necessarily a comedy genre. We wanted something that was weird, and would feel dreamy, fairy tale-ish. When things are so awkward and with so many events that happen to you, it can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Rami Alayan: Awkward funny, not necessarily laugh your head out, because ultimately the subject is heavy. Living in Palestine sometimes the tragedy is so big, you cannot stop yourself and laugh about it. When things are so absurd there will be always comedy behind it. That’s where the idea came from.

1907342_270341573136319_4674736077029919957_nOther films in the past with this subject matter, had production funding. In this film that was not the case. Can you talk more about the funding process?
MA: We have been co-writing scripts for a while. The reason we decided to go ahead and produce this one first, is because we wanted to make a micro low budget production, due to the nature of the story, We wanted to produce it with what we had available. Also, we feel it’s time to have another model of production in Palestine. So far Palestinian films have only been produced through co-productions, big investments, co-productions with Europe, etc. I know many filmmakers from our generation working on wonderful scripts, amazing stories but are stuck n this co-production industry

Also, we feel it’s time to have another model of production in Palestine. So far Palestinian films have only been produced through big investments, co-productions with Europe, etc. I know many filmmakers from our generation working on wonderful scripts, amazing stories but are stuck in this co-production industry rut. We wanted to try the micro-budget, gorilla style, independent movie filmmaking. It’s proven to be successful in the USA, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia where filmmakers are focusing on the creative side and making their films come to life. That was our strategy basically. We aren’t going to say no to co-productions but it’s important to Palestinian filmmaking to have more diversity on how films can get made.

RA: Co-production is great. But there is so much room for Palestinian films in the co-production market. We felt we needed to experiment if there was another way to make a film in Palestine where there isn’t that option for us or other filmmakers.

This was your feature film debut, tell us about your background, what made you decide to become a filmmaker?
MA: I wanted to tell stories. I grew up listening to stories from my grandmother, my father, my whole family basically. Storytelling was a big part of my upbringing. I always wanted to tell these stories and find a way to express them. in Palestine self-expression is dangerous. You can easily get imprisoned for demonstrating. When I was a teenager this was a medium where I felt I can tell stories, bring images to people. I hope I succeeded in creating this community around me of friends, family, or filmmakers I met later on, students that I taught in school (because I use to teach in a college in Bethlehem) to come together and create this production community in telling stories.I studied filmmaking in San Francisco and then went back home. I want to tell stories in Palestine, in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.

10806271_270341653136311_2967171622775017525_nWhile Filming in Palestine territories, what were the challenges?
MA: There were a lot of challenges. Getting the guns for the scenes. We ended collaborating with the Palestinian police and intelligence. The police gave us the ok to shoot in the area where they are in control. The West Bank area is divided in A, B and C. In area A we got the permission to use the intelligence guns, but they had to be with us on set, we shoot the scene and they take the guns back. We had scenes that were supposed to be shot in area C, even they were questioning the area, looking at the maps and in area C is where the Israeli army is in control. It isn’t impossible to coordinate, but it would need meetings, paperwork to coordinate. We ended up using toy guns in these scenes. The permits was another problem. Sami Metwasi, the main character, is a Palestinian Christian from the Bethlehem area, we scheduled some of the scenes around Easter because the Palestinian community gets permits around this time to cross the checkpoint. But the army was a week late in handing the permits to the church, we had to switch the dates so the actors and crew could come to Jerusalem. Getting permits is a gamble, not everyone can get this.

Financial challenges, of course. We used all our savings, we borrowed money from friends, most of the crew volunteered, locations we used is what was available. The car is my car, the garage location is where I fix my car, we used my friends house…

RA: Half of the crew were extras, including me (laughs).

MA: Yes, the assistant director, the gaffer played a militia man. Rami was a falafel seller. Everyone multi functioned basically. I was doing the camera, direction, producing…

You were also the cinematographer. Why did you make the film in black & white?
MA: Yes. When we were writing we were going for a fairy tale,  dream world style. We wanted to eliminate any elements of real images that people are used to in the Palestine/Israel conflict; have the characters in this story interact in this world that is a dream world but with real events also. Elements from their life and from the social, political life from the Palestinian people. Filming in black & white helped a lot, I am happy with this decision.

10850171_270341239803019_7178613801575388061_nWhat was the audience reaction to the film?
MA: We didn’t premiere in Palestine yet. The Israel press loved the film. The Palestinians on the filmmaking community are so happy that it got to Berlin, it gave a lot of hope of films getting made. They loved the story, that it’s different, that the story is not biased or directed according to the funding since funding sometimes influences not only political or social agendas. It also influences what kind of film you are making, the genre, whatever audiences they have in mind.

Any advice for other filmmakers?
MA: Don’t wait. Be creative. If you have big scripts that require a lot of funding, be creative in finding ways to produce them and to tell the story.

– Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by Lia Fietz

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