November 22, 2011

Mixed Neighborhood in Mixed Genres

Haifa, August 2011

Visitors to Massada Street in Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood in Israel place it somewhere between Berlin and Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Cairo. It has coffee shops in various styles, designers’ studios and shops, second-hand stores for books, clothes and antiques, a hookah bar, a sushi restaurant, a watchmaker store, tattoo shop, a synagogue, galleries, an underground station, and a community center. Within less than ten minutes you could walk from one end to the other and pass by all of Massada’s landmarks. But once you get to know its people, a whole new world of meanings will unfold.

Probably nowhere else in Israel you will find such a mix of people from different ethnic, national and religious groups living in such proximity. What kinds of social relations emerge in such an environment? What are the challenges and opportunities it opens for its residents, for its visitors, and for the larger socio-political sphere? How does this reality react to and confront with larger municipal and state institutions? What kind of citizenry emerges out of the various affiliations on the street level, in coffee-shops, street festivals and everyday life? How could all these be translated to cinematic language, and what could be its affects on the viewers?

This Arts of Citizenship project wishes to examine these questions through an observation, participation, and analysis of a film production project initiated by the Massada Film Collective – a mixed group of Arabs and Jews, who are local residents in the neighborhood, and have various backgrounds in filmmaking and social activism. By engaging in this film production, the group members wish to creatively portray their experiences of living in the mixed neighborhood.

The work on this project had begun early in fall 2010 by the Massada Film Collective. The idea of producing a film was initiated during meeting between members of the group and representatives from Haifa’s municipality. The meeting itself was summoned by the municipality to figure out how to respond to various demands the residents presented. While the municipality’s representatives wanted the group to produce a fundraising film for the neighborhood in order to raise money for cultural activities, the group members felt this would prevent them from raising contentious issues and from dealing with their reality in a more critical manner. The group members wished to engage in a creative and in-depth process of filming, and to produce a film that would not only better represent their realities, beliefs and aspirations, but would also act as a force for social change. Thus, they decided to work independently from the municipality, and started engaging in discussions on what would be the best cinematic genre for their needs.

Once the Arts of Citizenship’s support was granted, the group was able to set its new goals for its collaborative work, and brainstorming meetings became more frequent. Since the group works as a collective no division of labor was set, so all were responsible of jotting down ideas for script, genre, and main message they want to convey in the film. During discussions on the various ideas the complexity of living in such a neighborhood became more vivid as many of the divides in the Israeli society – most of which are being reflected in the neighborhood and in the group itself – were put on the table and discussed. During these discussions it became clearer to what extent it is difficult to represent the overall complexities and charm of this neighborhood. Moreover, the group members became more aware to the actual process they are going through whereby the personal and the political unfold yet again as unseparable. Debates over suggested scenes shifted to sharing personal experiences, arguing on their meanings, and then returned to the script, to modify it accordingly.

So far it was decided that the main outline of the film would be a fiction narrative describing a process through which a newcomer to the neighborhood is searching for an apartment to rent and step by step getting to know its residents and its complexities. Two scenes of interactions in different locations were already translated to shooting scripts, and the actual shooting is planned to take place shortly. Since some of the group’s meetings were video recorded, it was decided to consider integrating a few scenes from these meetings into the film, thereby adding to it a more reflexive perspective, and creating a mixed-genre film: both fiction and documentary. We look forward to sharing with you more updates soon.

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