To think that Hilla Medalia was in school in Southern Illinois when she conceptualized and shot Daughters of Abraham, the prequel to this feature film To Die in Jerusalem, you have someone enormously brilliant on hand. This is the story of Ayat and Rachel, who not only are the microcosm of the Israeli- Palestine, but also a testament to the aggressive pursuit of this young director as she seeks to understand her world.
“I’m not trying to compare; all I’m trying to do is to give the stage to two mothers; to get a glimpse of their world.”*
Hilla realizes that she has something so powerful, stunning and provocative on her hands that the best she can do is sitting back and letting it unfold. It is fluid. It just plays out. In a world where communication does not happen, her film is a conversation; with the mothers, between the mothers, but never does the reality of the either side get shortchanged. In the most crucial of moments, never does anything look forced. And therein lies the beauty of To Die in Jerusalem.
Apparently, HBO sent two established American producers to make a feature on the same issue. They failed. And to think that a young Israeli woman just out of graduate school in Southern Illinois succeeded.
“Documentary filmmaking is essentially endurance, and more endurance.”*
Listening to her talk about the film was an absolute lesson in persistence. She waited for four years to shoot the scene between the two mothers. In between, the crew got arrested. Finally they made the mothers talk it out via satellite. Add cultural animosity, being behind the enemy lines and navigating between two countries amidst one of the bloodiest conflicts of our times. For example, she, as an Israeli Jewish, spent time in the Palestine ghetto with the family. She invested in an intangible element called the “cultural bridge”. The fact that whether it was Ayat or Avigail talking, you sense candor. This is not a coincidence. It is a comfort zone that Hilla has created.
“You actually feel in your heart the conflict.”*
Her film deals with something that is larger than life, a conflict that has now gone for half a century and has enough blood on it for objectivity on either sides. As the director, when she lets her characters talk to each other, she is lets countries talk. And civilizations talk. A conversation for which four miles has been too much, and five decades too less.
An Antifits recommendation.
*The italicized quotes are directly from the Director at the after screening Q & A.