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City of Borders Explores Lives of Gays & Lesbians in Israel

By Joseph Erbentraut in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 9, 2009 8:00PM

2009_11_09_cityofborders.jpg As seen in the rhetoric employed against the LGBT community in recent political struggles here in the States, including the recent striking down of gay marriage in Maine and the right's attacks on safe schools czar Kevin Jennings, religious traditions often play a very active role in any conversation on gay rights. But this is far from a U.S.-only issue, obviously. Perhaps nowhere are the rifts between the conservative and progressive, Orthodox and atheist, gay and straight more evident than in Jerusalem, center to the world's three major religions. City of Borders, a new documentary playing tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 10) at the Landmark Theater at 9 p.m. as part of the Reeling Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, takes a look at these rifts.

City of Borders, directed by Yun Suh, follows the lives of five LGBT peoples' attempts to live and love freely in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Sa'ar, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the Holy City, is also proprietor of the city's only gay bar, Shushan. The bar serves as the gathering point for the city's small but mighty community, including Boody, a devout Muslim Palestinian and charismatic drag performer; Samira, a Palestinian lesbian in a long-term relationship with her lover Ravit, who is Jewish and Adam, a secular Israeli who is an active proponent for gay rights.

The stories of these five individuals' lives unfold amidst a backdrop of rampant persecution from conservatives. Sa'ar receives numerous death threats, people interviewed on the streets say they would like to see homosexuals killed and the city's gay pride demonstrations, labeled "beast pride" by the opposition, are countered with garbage-burning, shouts of disapproval and even violence. The documentary includes footage where, during the 2005 parade, Adam is stabbed by an Orthodox protester. The images are horrific and heartbreaking.

Despite the near-constant opposition to their mere existence, the individuals in this film fight on, refusing to give up the place they call home and the identity they hold dear. As Samira says, when accosted by a conservative at a pride demonstration: "I prefer to die my life than live my death."

This is a phenomenally intimate documentary which challenges its audience on multiple levels. To observe these peoples' lives is to observe systems of oppression, misunderstanding and intolerance with roots going back thousands of years. These systems' impact on these individuals' lives is tremendous, granting new perspective to the many borders that continue to stand in the way of true equality for so many worldwide.

Also playing in Tuesday's double feature is Shunned, a documentary specifically exploring the experiences of gay Palestinians in Israel. Reeling continues through Nov. 15 with over 150 shorts, features and documentaries being screened throughout the festival. Be sure to visit the festival's full schedule and keep an eye out for one more, zombie-rific film preview later this week.

City of Borders/Shunned, Tuesday, November 10, 9 p.m. Landmark Theater, 2828 N. Clark. Tickets $10, 773.293-1447 or here.