Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, a documentary exploring gay identity in today’s Israel, has won the inaugural $25,000 prize for best feature film or documentary at the 2016 Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) Israeli Film Festival.
The award was added this year to the festival, held recently in Sydney and Melbourne, and is designed to foster exceptional talent inside the Israeli film industry.
The story of Saar Maoz, an openly gay man and his efforts to reconcile his sexuality with his Orthodox Jewish family, Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? had already won people’s choice awards at the Berlin Film Festival, where it premiered in February this year, and at the Krakow International Film Festival.
The documentary tells the intensely personal story of 40-year-old Saar, who has never fulfilled his parents’ expectations. Ever since he defied the rules of his kibbutz and was barred from the settlement community 17 years ago, he had simply ceased to exist, as far as his family was concerned.
He left Israel to live in London, where he was involved in a three-year relationship. When it ended, however, he went on a sex and drug-fuelled binge that ended with him being diagnosed HIV positive, forcing him to rethink his life.
With the support of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, who enrich the doco with a fabulous soundtrack, Saar begins a reconciliation process with his biological family in Israel. However, when he finally breaks the news to them about his condition, all the old fears and prejudices are reignited. Torn between two worlds, he is forced to decide between returning to Israel to embrace his family once more, or staying in exile in London, possibly forever.
Shot over several years, Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is, as the notes on the festival’s website state, “a powerful exploration of the power of forgiveness and the power of home, regardless of how far someone strays from their upbringing.”
The jury, comprising film lecturer Dr Dvir Abramovich, critic Jan Epstein, LA-based producer Howard Rosenman, and festival director Richard Moore, awarded the prize to directors Barak and Tomer Heymann for what they described as a ‘courageous and inspiring documentary’.
Vibrant and active democracy
Commenting on the decision, Moore said: “As a jury, our guiding principle was to award the prize to a film that best reflected the state of Israel as a vibrant and active democracy. Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is a fine example of a film industry capable of engaging in a mature and tough debate.”
Talking to plus61J, Moore said the standard of the entries was extremely good and there were several others worthy of consideration. “While the jury agreed that the winner truly represented what the competition stood for, entries such as Demon [a Polish-Israeli horror flick] and Harmonia [an adaptation of the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah] were also exceptional.”
Brave subject choice
What really stood out for Moore about Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, however, was the fact that it was willing to embrace the subject of homosexuality, something that is largely taboo in the rest of the Middle East, where those caught engaging in it face frightful consequences.
“No one seems to talk about the fact that in Israel you can at least discuss these things openly. Saar came from a religious family. His father disowned him but his mother, who was also very religious, fought for him. There was even a scene where his brother told him he didn’t want Saar to touch his kids. This documentary handled an extremely touchy subject with maturity, responsibility, and sensitivity.”
Apart from the peoples’ choice awards, Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? has received wide acclaim at other film festivals this year such as; the Lemesos International Documentary Festival in Cyprus, the Frameline LGBTQ Film Festival in San Francisco, the Pink Apple Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in Switzerland, and the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival.
The Heymann brothers were delighted to hear the news about the award, issuing a statement posted on the AICE website: “We congratulate the jury on their great choice and also the backers of the festival for this wonderful prize.”
Second Australian award for filmmaking brothers
The Heymanns have been making documentaries together for over a decade, mostly with a social and political orientation, and this is not the first time they have been recognised by an Australian jury. In 2001, Tomer Heymann directed It Kinda Scares Me about his interaction with a group of tough estate boys and his effort to put on a play featuring them. It went on to win Best Documentary at the Melbourne International Film Festival, an Academy Award in Israel and more gongs in Torino, Milan, New York, and Taipei.
Regarding this year’s festival, Moore said he was happy with the turnout and the reception that the programme received, especially at Sydney’s Ritz cinema in Randwick. “People embraced the new venue and were really happy with the solid selection of titles. It was a good, fresh move for the festival and I believe it has found a home there.”
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