Alex Moreland chats with director Maysaloun Hamoud, director of ‘In Between’, aka ‘Bar Bahar’…
First of all, I was going to ask – what was your starting point for In Between?
Um, the starting point is the time, by chance, I started to write. It was actually – the Arab spring began around us. Even as Palestinian-Israel citizens, we cannot really connect to all the capitals in the Arab world, but in our souls, we were there together. So, if this spirit really influenced us – and me, of course – the winds of change, as we say, was the beginning of the writing and the movie.
What was the production process like? How did it kind of evolve from start to finish?
It took five years to create this movie and I actually connected to my producer since I was at cinema school he was my teacher. He is a very famous filmmaker by himself, his name is Shlomi Elkabetz and he made a trilogy with his past sister Veronica Elkabetz the famous actress, and from the beginning, from even the idea when I was writing anything, I came to him and just told him about the idea and he loved it, and we started to work on the process since that. And it offered a lot of challenges in the road but this couple power that we created, which is rare in our field, gave us a lot of empowering to raise the money for this script. Even it’s still a lower budget than other movies, you know, I think you cannot see it and think about low budget because it’s very well done because of the love that it’s made with by all the people who took part.
Why do you think the movie has prompted such strong reactions from people?
I think because it brings something that people haven’t seen yet. It breaks all the stereotypes that we use to see characters of Arabs and Palestinians, particularly – and women, for sure. So, it came and put the issues in the front of the space, and until now we hide it under the cover. It makes people ask questions and I think get strength from it.
So, I suppose the movie is about the women trying to find liberation within their own lives. Do you think in the end that they manage that?
I think of course! I think that they didn’t compromise on themselves. Each of them in their own way has resisted what this society expected from her. It’s a very important wave in her liberation, and of course at the end, it’s not a happy end, and I don’t think the life and reality is happy, but it is winning in a bottle. And during the battle, you get a lot of kicks and you’re smashed, but still you stand on your feet.
I suppose, like you said, it’s winning in a bottle, do you think it’ll only be temporary then?
No. I think when you start, you cannot go back. For sure.
On another note, the movie kind of walks a fine line, because it draws a distinction between religion and religious people, and I was just wondering if –
I don’t think I really concentrated on the religion or the religious people. I just think that I was talking about the conservative people all over the world. This story is particular, for sure, as a Palestinian woman, but at the same they are so universal. I think all women all over the world, and not just the women; the men that you see in the movies are around us, all over the world. Just a difference of faces and names, I can see, but these dilemmas and these conflicts, you can find the everywhere. In London, in Britain, everywhere in Europe, everywhere in the States, everywhere in Latin America and the Far East, anywhere you want. Because this is how humanity behaves through the world and discrimination against women is everywhere. So, I don’t think it just about the religions.
Definitely, definitely. And that sort of leads onto what I was about to ask you next, which was that you said that you sort of hoped that this movie sort of prompts a new era for representation for women, I was wondering what was necessary to achieve that?
Yes. I think women solidarity is a strong message that comes from the movie. I think the power that women can change the reality if they start to lead. Also, what’s going on in reality, we will get a better reward, I believe.
On another note, I’d also like to ask you about the production of the movie. You wrote the script, so you’re quite familiar with the source material there, but I was wondering how much of your choices as a director are pre-planned, and how much of it was instinct in the moment?
Um, I can tell you that I am a perfectionist, and I did care about all the small details and I even write my script full of details – sometimes it’s a bit heavy for reading [laughs] but I write it very full of aspects I love in cinema. So, you can read it and you can imagine and you can see, very closely to what you see on the screen. But because I casted men actors and actors that are acting for the first time for cinema, but all of them, the common base, all of them come from the same themes, from the same generation, so it’s familiar for all of us, these situations.
I wanted to make it really frantic and non-acting actually. So, at their houses, we take all of the situations and the dialogues and we also improvised on it, and in some of the scenes we got very magical scenes that just popped up and we kept it for the shooting. So, it’s work for all of the partners inside.
How do you think that kind of affects the dynamic of the movie?
I think the energy that you feel during watching it is totally the way of life, the reason of life, most of those characters live in the real life. It gives the actors the feeling that you are part of it, so it makes it closer for the audience.
Yeah, it’s quite an intimate movie I think.
I hope it was.
Well, I think so!
You’re welcome! So, the soundtrack of the movie was important I thought, and was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the role music plays in your film?
Yes, me myself am really into music, I am a DJ, and as someone like Sana Jammelieh, who plays Salma – she’s a real life DJ too and she was the first person who taught me how to use all these mixers and all this – and um I wanted to bring the sound that we really hear and like in our daily lives to the movies and to put the mix of the musicians, that some of them are Palestinians and some of non-zionist Jew like me, as we say, and also one person who is an original score musician who unfortunately we couldn’t give his credit in the movie, because he is from a country that we don’t have relations with as an Israeli citizen. He could be in jail if I put his name.
But we made the music without meeting each other, during the night, a lot of skype nights, and that make a really authentic sound of what we really live. And you can also find the whole soundtrack, I don’t know if you heard about it, but there is a mixtape in soundcloud. There is a one-hour mixtape on soundcloud, and you can hear it and enjoy it.
Okay, I’ll look that up, I’ll search for it. I suppose on another note, I wanted to know who are you influences as a filmmaker?
I think there are a lot of, but specifically for this movie, I think, I hope, you can feel that a bit of, in some way, Ken Loach and Egyptian cinema kind of, in some way also, but basically those. Let me say from the Palestinian cinema, there is a movie called Ajami, don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but it is a first-person movie – it’s both, it’s a cooperation between an Israeli director and a Palestinian director called Scander Copti, who were also nominated to the Oscars.
It talks about the Palestinian-Israeli citizens, and it was the first time that they put us inside Palestinian-Israel in the cinema, instead of always putting the Palestinians from the west bank and from that end, because to Ajami, all the movies were still about just the conflict and occupation – which is good, but there is another stories and topics that we need to talk about. And Ajami was the first realistic person in cinema, and it’s also inspiring for me.
I’ll try and watch that this evening.
Yes! You have to. It’s amazing!
I look forward to it! On another note again, since 2009, you’ve been part of a group called PALESTINEMA? I was wondering if you could tell us a little about your work with them and why you think it’s important.
Yes, yes. I am lucky to be the one who thought about the idea that we need to know each other. Okay, ten years back, it wasn’t that scene that you saw at the movies. It’s a very young scene, 10 years old scene, and I am from the oldest inside it, but PALESTINEMA is actually the roots for the beginning of this scene. Because that time, where we didn’t know each other, each of us was studying in different institutions and some of us had finished that a long time ago, but we didn’t know each other. And I thought it was weird that we had the same sort of mind, we have the same issues to deal with without connecting.
And the times that we start the group, it started actually the scene, a culture scene I mean, from the moment started from a crew level, a music level, and artists come out. A lot of activities that we did during that specialist screenings of movies from the Arab world that we cannot have as a Palestinian citizen, and talk with the directors by skype. Actually, it was the first time that we connected our awards like this. So, we had a lot of activities at that time, I think, but I think the most important think is it’s rooted the culture base of the underground. What you see and you hear and the movies.
Again, on a slightly different note, because I’m a bit conscious of our time, can you tell us about projects that you might be working on at the minute?
I have to say that this is the first part of a trilogy that I would love to continue. But it would not be continuous stories or continuous characters, it will be a continuous theme. But meanwhile, between the next feature, I’m working on a TV series that is inspired from the movie, but it’s a criminal comedy. I’m really looking forward to shoot and to continue the work that the audience can see it.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to watching it! We’ll have to talk to each other again when it comes out.
[laughs] Yeah, of course.
As a final question then, what would you most like audiences to take away from In Between?
I think that the activism that the movie brings to the cinema. The voice of women solidarity. The voice of changing the controversial way of life that we hate to be in. And to make the world better, you know, a better place.
I think that’s a good message! Maysaloun Hamoud, thank you very much!
In Between is in cinemas now.