Friendship With(out) Borders

Filmmaker and documentarian Jen Heck travels to the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with her latest documentary The Promised Band, following a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who form a mock band as a cover to maintain their friendship across political borders. With travel restricted by armed checkpoints and social tensions rising on highly contested borders, these women do what it takes to preserve the love and connections they’ve found. “This is a place where their friendship is essentially criminalized,” says Heck.

Heck’s exploration of the conflict began, of all places, on Mount Everest, where she met a Palestinian mountain climber who wanted Heck to document the first all-Palestinian summit. The Arab Spring quashed those plans, but not before Heck made personal contacts in the region, including a Palestinian woman name Lena living in Nablus. Watching Lena navigate her daily social life, the film came to be. “Because just bringing a person over to say ‘Hello’ was so complicated,” says Heck, “but there was still this huge longing to connect.”

Because travel is less restricted for artistic endeavors, particularly those legitimized by an institution as opposed to individuals, the pretense of a band seemed a viable workaround to stage frequent and believable contact amongst this group of friends living on opposite sides of the Green Line. Add in a camera crew, and things could get messy, so most everything was shot just by Heck. “The hardest part is that you have to be inconspicuous,” she says. “You are constantly being watched.” This applies as much to the authorities as it does fearful neighbors and passers-by, Heck continued, in a place not at all removed from a prolonged and subversive conflict. “When you’re a person with a camera, you’re either a journalist or a spy pretending to be a journalist.” But more than anything, the cover protected the cast who would not be leaving the country at the end of the shoot.

In the end, Heck describes The Promised Band as a love story between this group of women, but with greater implications for understanding the conflict they try to overcome. “The band represents a microcosm of the society,” she says, “and when the band doesn’t work, it’s the same reason that the society doesn’t work.” Whether it be the politics of religion, nationality or gender, the tension is real and understanding them enables the viewer to try and understand the bigger picture. “people are fearful and it keeps them in place,” says Heck. Though there may be more talk of peace there than anywhere else, she says, the response is a trend towards increased social stratification. Heck’s message is one of sameness, of common ground in humanity that disarms the call for segregation. “It’s taking away the monster under the bed that’s used as a political tool,” she says.

Enjoying its East Coast premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival, catch the final screening of The Promised Band April 4 at 1:30pm.

Pictured: Producer Maria De La O and Jen Heck. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

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