After making my documentaries Art and Apathy and Beyond Blue and Gray I was left feeling my work in the region was not complete. I was especially interested in the testimony of a Palestinian man named Wajee Tameise. He shared with me a story in which he found himself waiting at an Israeli checkpoint for a young soldier to wake up. This soldier had fallen asleep on duty. His slumber blocked the path of mothers, grandmothers, children, businessmen, and students alike. When the soldier suddenly awoke he motioned with his foot to open the checkpoint.
This image, with its problematic poetry, illuminates the day-to-day relations between Israelis and Palestinians and shows how un-natural “non-violent” interactions between the two groups have become. I wanted to expose the beautifully tragic humanity expressed in this simple, yet cruel image of a sleeping soldier. I did not feel the documentary medium offered me the language I needed to turn these impressions into something meaningful and innovative. I needed a more subtle language.
I knew that if I set out to make a film that explained my thoughts in a linear, literal way my film like many attempted in the region, would drown in a world of clichés and righteous indignation. I put together an hour of documentary material that I thought was provocative and assembled a group of musicians, asking them to respond creatively to the documentary. This resulted in a powerful collaboration with world-renowned producer Tamir Muskat of the Balkan Beat Box. Together we built a recording studio in the desert near Gaza and invited musicians from Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Iran (via Sweden) to create a soundtrack in English, Farsi, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. From the original music, I wrote the narrative of Mars at Sunrise. The relationship between the two main characters, Eyal and Khaled, was born from the guitar and oud performances of Mohsen Subhi (Ramallah) and Itamar Zeigler (Tel Aviv).
Photography by Xavier Cunilleras