In the spring of 2011, Patrick Stewart and Gina Angelone were shooting a film in Israel and got to spend time in the West Bank. They were very moved by the situation they observed and by the hospitable people they met. They were also appalled by the wall surrounding the occupied territories, the various checkpoints, and by the military acts they directly experienced. They knew at that moment that they wanted to make a film together telling a positive story about Palestinians and their plight.
That summer, Patrick returned to Israel with his family for vacation. His wife, Mouna, is Palestinian by birth, though she was raised abroad. This was her first trip to Israel. It was a life-changing experience for the whole Stewart family. They were very taken by the Arab spirit there, and particularly moved by the children jumping off the seawall in Akka.
That December, Gina returned to Israel to shoot another film project. Patrick urged her to go to Akka with her cameraman and to investigate and shoot some interviews to see if there was, in fact, as story to tell. Mouna joined Gina in Israel, setting up meetings, interviews and gathering research on the Palestinian situation in Akka and throughout the country. Together, the women spent a few days in Akka, interviewing Makram Khoury and some children, and kick-starting the project.
When they got back home it was clear: there was definitely a story to tell about Akka. And it wasn’t simply about the perilous act of jumping from the seawall. It was about the people and their connection to place...their connection to home. As the filmmakers dug deeper, it became all too apparent that Akka was the current victim of Israel’s cut-and-paste urban philosophy, promoting ethnic migration within old, established Arab cities, pushing poor families out and shifting the balance in demography toward a non-Arab populace. Akka is now in danger of becoming another soul-less touristic seaside destination with its original citizens gone (much like Jaffa). It was also clear that beyond all government effort, the people of Akka were standing their ground and holding on to what was theirs.
Meeting people in a small town like Akka was easy. One person introduces you to the next, and so on. Everywhere we went, we met generous, open-hearted, open- minded people of every age and background. It was remarkable to be welcomed into the community in such an instantly warm way. We experienced a people with vision and energy, powered by a deep desire for independence and personal choice, even in the face of risk.
The obstacles were few compared to the rewards: airport hassles and searches; driving a large production van down a packed pedestrian cobbled road with blind turns; getting the weather to cooperate with the jumpers; fighting all temperatures, cold and hot, to get the shots we needed; setting up 7 cameras to shoot the jumping sequences; finding a pilot and a plane for aerials; and waking up each day uncertain of who we’d meet or what they’d have to say. Miraculously, with several consecutive trips, it all came together over the course of a year.
Our hope is that this film will put a spotlight on a people and a perspective that is not usually heard or understood, and ultimately create a positive and thoughtful image of today’s Palestinian citizens as opposed to the negative media-generated ones. As one person said “Simply being called a Palestinian is already an accusation.” We hope our film can help shift this perspective and return some humanity and dignity to those who deserve it, as well as to illuminate the current situation in Akka.
Cinema Libre Studio
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