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Jerusalem is Proud to Present: Melbourne Queer Film Festival

In Jerusalem is Proud to Present, the award winning documentary by Israeli film maker Nitzan Gilady, which had its Australian debut at the current 19th Melbourne Queer Film Festival, the lack of tolerance is short in supply.
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Jerusalem is Proud to Present: Melbourne Queer Film Festival

As a gay man living in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a large western city, it’s very easy to forget the continuing struggle many of our LGBTQI brethren experience daily in parts of the world where tolerance is in far shorter supply.

Nowhere is this truism more evident than in Jerusalem is Proud to Present, the award winning documentary by Israeli film maker Nitzan Gilady, which had its Australian debut at the current 19th Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

In the summer of 2006, Jerusalem was host, for the first time, to World Pride events, an annual celebration of LGBTQI freedom and culture, planned to culminate in a traditional gay pride parade.

The planned events stirred turmoil in an already politically complex city, with Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders banding together for the first time in their troubled history in an uncompromising battle against an event they believed would “defile the holy city”.

Though the demonstration was to be more a symbolic gesture of gay pride and solidarity – with organizers taking the unprecedented step of agreeing to avoid the nudity and provocation of other international gay-pride gatherings as a gesture of respect – the event’s opponents far outnumbered its passionate organizers, forcing compromises through threats of physical violence.

In direct opposition to the religious zealots stood the remarkably brave activists of the “Open House”, Jerusalem’s only LGBT community centre, who planned the event and steadfastly refused, in the face of the heated and violent anti-gay sentiment to back down in their fight.

It seems inconceivable outside the realms of fiction that any one event could have the power to create multicultural bonds between ultra-Orthodox rabbis, evangelical Christians and conservative Muslims.
Sadly, such was the strength of the rabid homophobia shared by these three disparate groups that this very reality came to pass.

This remarkable documentary is a behind the scenes look at the entire controversy, with filmmaker Nitzan Gilady being granted extraordinary access to both sides in the debate.

Acting as a silent witness throughout the uphill planning process Gilady deftly presents an insider’s view of the many obstacles faced – from city hall, where Jerusalem’s mayor and conservative council refused to acknowledge any discussion, to the streets, where anti gay pamphlets and actual rioting led local police to revoke their support for the march.

To his credit, the openly gay Gilady does not offer a one sided view to the events as he could so easily have done – he lets the anti-gay contingent demonise themselves with no help from him.

Footage from various sources, archival as well as film shot directly by Gilady, are woven together into a dramatic story that attempts to present both sides of the debate openly and intelligently.

The scenes documenting the struggle of Jerusalem’s only openly-gay city council member, Sa’ar Netanel (who stood up to the orthodox bullies in the City Council and endured the taunts of orthodox on the streets and anonymous threats by phone to him and his mother) are inspiring in their depiction of what true courage really is.

On the opposite side of the fence, the scenes documenting the rabid homophobia of New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who went to Jerusalem to stir up opposition to the march among the ultra-orthodox Jews and to encourage formation of an anti-World Pride coalition with Muslim and Christian leaders in the city, are truly terrifying in their depiction of the power of fear and hatred.

Perhaps the most moving statement in the film comes from Adam Russo, a victim of a homophobic hate crime in 2005 that left him near to death. It was impossible not to be moved by his speech made during the 2007 Pride Festival about the shocking silence of the Israeli political establishment in the face of the violent authoritarian actions of the ultra-orthodox in their demonstrations against World Pride and the march.

Interestingly, in an interview I heard with the director on Melbourne Queer radio station Joy Melbourne, Gilady commented that in recent years active ant-gay sentiment towards queer events on the part of the various religious leaders has waned with the controversy depicted in the documentary having the opposite effect intended in that it opened discussion amongst the various communities as to the nature of homosexuality and homophobia.

Gilady’s film is an important record of bravery and determination in the face of adversity and is a testament to the talent of this remarkable film maker and one of the most remarkable films on offer at this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Jerusalem is Proud to Present: Melbourne Queer Film Festival
Dir: Nitzan Gilady, Israel, 2007, video, 82min
Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish with English subtitles.

Stephen Rhys
About the Author
Stephen Rhys is a freelance writer who has worked extensively in the arts. He is a past host for JOY FM's Arts Show and was a board member of the Queer Film Festival.
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