City of Borders is not just about gays and lesbians. Set in Jerusalem where tensions run high between Arabs and Jews, the film portrays a wealth of identities that are constantly under attack.
Making its North American premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival, City of Borders brings home an important message of tolerance, struggle, and hope. Director Yun Suh is a Berkeley alumna and Bay Area resident who traveled to Israel/Palestine to capture the lives of her five main subjects.
The documentary focuses on a singular gay bar, Shushan, which has become a safe place for both Israeli and Palestinian queers to meet and mingle. There’s Boody (a.k.a. Miss Haifa), who jumps the wall into Jerusalem to get to Shushan and whose mother denies his homosexuality. Boody offers a unique trans-Atlantic perspective in that he decides to move to the U.S. and finds out that while he’s much more free to be out, marriage and marital rights are still lacking.
The film roots for its subjects but doesn’t ignore the uglier sides of their stories. Out city councilman Sa’ar and his mother receive death threats because of his involvement in gay rights and city politics–politics of a sacred city, we are reminded. As owner of Shushan, he faces financial woes too, as the club is popular but not lucrative. After getting stabbed at a previous pride rally, Adam finds fuel for fighting for gay rights, but he is not without his own prejudices. At one rally, he looks at a sign that says “break down the wall” (alluding to the wall that separates West and East Jerusalem) and complains that these people “dilute the message.”
Ravit and Samira, the Israeli/Palestinian lesbian couple, show strength against the mire of intolerance through which the narrative wades. They prove that love can exist between people pitted against each other, even if they can’t necessarily escape the notion that the other is the enemy. Through all five of these characters, City of Borders explores cross identities, the intersections of religion, culture, and sexual orientation. Their journeys warm the audience and, at times, bring tears to their eyes.
City of Borders plays at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on Monday at 9:15 p.m. and Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. You can purchase tickets here.