Director Lisa Morgenthau’s important documentary “A Queer Country” looks at Israel from a LGTBQ perspective. The film premiered at the United Kingdom Jewish Film Festival, and will have its New York premiere on October 22nd. A Wider Bridge interviewed Lisa on the making of her film.
Why did you make A Queer Country?
Lisa: As a British gay Jew who has visited Israel many times, I already knew about the LGBT culture in Tel Aviv. However, when I told people back home, especially non Jewish friends, about the LGBT culture in Israel, they simply couldn’t believe it – it didn’t fit with their perception of Israel. One friend who was particularly interested, especially from a journalistic perspective, was the producer of this film, Harriet Davies. Together we decided to go on this journey of telling the story of Israel’s gay culture.
How long did the film take to make?
Lisa: We spent a couple of months filming in the Autumn of 2013 and we spent another couple of months filming in May/June 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the rest of the film. Then intermittent short trips over the next couple of years to fill in any gaps we felt were missing during the edit. The edit and post production took a year altogether. So from start to finish we worked on the film for 3 years.
What has the reaction been? So many things connected with LGBT-Israel have been accused of pinkwashing. I am curious whether you encountered this with your film.
Lisa: Overall we have had a very positive response. In particular from the members of the LGBT community in Tel Aviv which mattered so much to us because it was important for us to feel we gave a fair representation of the community. We have not been accused of ‘pinkwashing’ so far! We can understand that some people view it in this way as there are instances where the LGBT scene in Tel Aviv maybe used to ‘promote’ Israel internationally but because so many people are genuinely working at a grassroots level to further LGBT rights in Israel, we feel that they deserve recognition on the international stage too.
How would you describe Israel’s LGBTQ scene? Not just in Tel Aviv, but also in the rest of the country?
Lisa: As a young country, there has been so much progress in terms of LGBT rights and equalities, and this is down to a phenomenally strong activist community that have fought for all their freedoms from a grassroots level and continue to push for total equality. I can tell you, as a Londoner, that there are far, far more LGBT families in Tel Aviv openly and visibly enjoying their freedoms than on the streets of London. However, despite the remarkable progress there are many challenges; trans and queer equality catching up with LGB freedoms; the fight for equality in all areas of law for the whole LGBTQ community, and a more visible LGBT presence in the Knesset to name but a few. And of course there is the frustration for members of the LGBT community to know that because of religious law, there is cap on how much progress they can actually achieve.
What did you learn from making the film?
Lisa: The LGBT community was more vibrant, stronger and more diverse than we could have imagined. Tel Aviv was definitely a ‘haven’ of LGBT progress. As you can see in the film, though, this progress isn’t happening equally everywhere and other more religious communities were not so accepting and at times actively homophobic.
What are your favorite scenes/characters?
Lisa: We are so privileged to have met so many thoughtful, helpful and inspiring people. We were particularly moved by Ayala Katz who suffered the loss of her son Nir Katz in an LGBT hate crime, a senseless tragedy that took place in youth club in 2009. Ayala has shown so much courage by going out, talking and educating people about the LGBTQ community. She has created more awareness and been determined somehow turned enormous tragedy into something positive in order to honour the memory of her son.
Director Lisa Morgenthau won “The Women’s Filmmaker” award in the 2016 Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards. “A Queer Country” was was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature. She is now researching her next documentary.