Love During Wartime is the real, modern-day tale of Romeo and Juliet. Two fated lovers fighting against the world with their only weapon: Love. In the middle of the smoke and debris, from the most well-known running conflict in the world is Osama, a Palestinian Muslim artist. Jasmin is an Israeli Jew who is a dancer and a daughter of a German Jewish immigrant. Israeli bureaucracy filled with suspicion and a menacing Palestinian society make their life a nightmare. All they want to do is create a new life together removed from politics, religion and history. But, of course, this is not easy in a land where their societies have turned their backs on them, disapproving of such a union. And so, they leave in search of a new life.
Gabriella Bier, director of Love During War Time is a graduate of documentary department at the University College of Film, Radio, Television and Theatre in Stockholm 1997. Since leaving film school she has been working as a filmmaker. Her works include GRÄNSLÖS KÄRLEK (2006) (LOVE WITHOUT BORDERS), THE SCHOOL PHOTO (2003), CAROLINE (1999), AMALIEGADE (1997) (AMALIESTREET). LOVE DURING WARTIME is Gabriella’s first feature length documentary.
Bijan Tehrani: My first question is how and when did you encounter this story and the couple that are in your Love During Wartime?
Gabriella Bier: I had been filming two other couple before I met with Assi and Jasmin, they had declined to continue being in the film because one couple had been threatened in the West Bank and the other couple were in Tel Aviv so they were afraid to be in it, so I really tried before. But then I heard about an article in Haaretz which is one of Israel main state newspapers and I read an article and it was about a man and his mate and then I got this article through one of the other couples I had filmed before and they had contacted the father of Jasmin and she had the phone number of him, so I called him but at that time Jasmin had already moved to Berlin so I called her and she said yes and three days later I went to Ramada to meet with Osama.
BT: It has been a long journey through the film, how long were you with the couple during filming?
GB: I met them in August in 2006 and the film was completed in November 2010, so yeah it was a bit more that four years.
BT: How devastating was making this film?, because I think that your film’s destiny was like their destiny because you did not know if the film was ever going to be completed. How challenging was it to make this film?
GB: Of course it was devastating with the two other couple who had said no, especially when the second couple said no. At that time I was in Israel and I had a cameraman and he was really frustrated because he did not have anything to do. It was just that I had to do this film because I felt all along that this was an incredibly important story to tell and it would talk to many different types of people, it talks a lot about love and relationships and it was really important to me to tell the story from a very personal point of view. But although had so much struggle myself and once I decided that I had to make this film, I did not look and I did not listen to people who said that this would never work, I just had to do it.
BT: How did you manage to get the people to open up in front of the camera?
GB: There are two reasons, one is that I understood very early that they had a made a decision already that they were going to have contact with the media and they decided not to be afraid. The other couples were afraid and for good reason but they decided that they did not want to hide their love and they did not want to show that they were afraid so I knew that when I started filming them. The second thing is that both of their families approved of their marriage and supported it. I go a really good connection with Assi, even though I do not speak Arabic and in the beginning his English was very poor, and Jasmin was not easy either, I understand some Hebrew. We got a long so well so you could say a lot of the film was done in between the actual shooting because when you hang out with people a lot you just have a good time and we had really good discussions about all sorts of things and it became really personal. When I met Jasmin she was living in Berlin, and she was very lonely and we became friends, although I told them that when the filming was over we would no longer be friends because it was not in the best interest in the film. This made me understand fear and love and hate for a country, I could understand all of these things because I am related to the place.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of the film?
GB: The structure, from the beginning, well let me say that I am more inspired by fiction films than documentaries and that was an important part so I tried to work less with interviews and more with whole sequences where people talk with each other. So we really worked on finding a way to make it seem like we were just following them. Since we do not speak Arabic and my Hebrew is very poor, but I juts fund a way of directing. For example when Assi meets with his friend to policeman and they are having a political discussion, they are asking all sorts of questions and then they talk for maybe a 1/4 of an hour and they often just talk to each other, and after fifty minutes I interrupted them and then gave them a different direction, but since I never interrupted anything you got this flow in the scene an it looks natural. The thing is capturing an action or a mood and that is something that I wanted to do from the start. Another thing is the environment, I wanted to shoot it how you visualize cities in fiction films, you really try to create a scene around that place, this is a place where people live and most of the time it is not like a building of the tanks and suicide bombings, it is a place where people live. And that is something that I wanted to show. From the beginning I knew that Asssi was going to try and go to Berlin, the fact that they fight so much for their relationship and the have such a difficult time. I knew that they wanted to have a baby and when I heard that they were pregnant I thought that is would be such a fantastic ending, which you rarely see in documentaries.
BT: Has the couple seen the finished film?
GB: Yes they have seen the film, the first time I shared it with them it was in Vienna in their home and they were fascinated and we have talked a lot about the film and gone to screenings together and hey are very happy about the film and they feel that they have been portrayed in a way that makes the film really about them.
BT: I read that you did not have that much of a problem filming in Palestine or Israel, but you had problems filming in Germany.
GB: Yeah Germany was difficult which is so surprising, of course if you want to film in a checkpoint which is no surprise that it would be difficult, you learn how to deal with it, you can film form a distance and the people help you to solve the problems but in Germany they would never let you film. The film at its core is in Jerusalem and we could not film the hearing, but in Germany we wanted to in some electric device store and we could not, so other places were really difficult and we could not understand why.
BT: Will the film be released theatrically in the United States?
GB: We have an American distributor in Los Angeles and I know that we have discussion with different kinds of theatres, I don’t know, what we talked about from the beginning was theatrical release so maybe it will be a theatrical release but I don’t know that yet.
BT: How has the reaction been to the film, especially in Israel?
GB: It will probably be shown on Israeli TV; we plan to have screening in both Jerusalem and Ramala and invite a panel to discuss the issues of the film. We want to discuss how it is to be an outsider in Palestine but we don’t have nay dates at the moment.
BT: Do you have any future projects lined up?
GB: Yeah, I am starting to shoot a film in June and it is about Danish and Swedish nationalist that has developed during the last decade and how it effects personal relations.