Filmmaker prepares for challenges of location shoot in West Bank town of Hebron
American filmmaker Nicole Ballivian is preparing for the challenge of filming in Hebron on the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. Around 500 armed Jewish settlers live among 160,000 Palestinians in the town, so tensions are constantly high; making a feature is a daunting prospect.
Her screenplay, Sleeping on Stones, focuses on a Jewish-American settler and two Arabs who become friends as children playing football together. They face challenges in their relationships as they reach adulthood.
Around 500 heavily armed Jewish settlers live among 160,000 Palestinians in Hebron, so tensions are constantly high; making a feature is a daunting prospect.
Ballivian is adamant that it can only be filmed in Hebron and has ignored advice to shoot in film-friendlier Israel or Jordan. She expresses frustration at screen stories that double Jordan for Iraq. The authenticity of place is very important to her and she doesn’t plan to compromise, despite the overt risks.
She states: “Sleeping on Stones is a Hebron story. Both the people and the history are considered characters in the film. The physicality and sounds of the location itself - its walls, streets, the Ibrahimi Mosque/Makhpelah Synagogue (an historical landmark that is half mosque, half synagogue, which houses the tombs of the Prophet Abraham and his family), the Hebron colloquialisms, the ‘Khalili’ accent, the mannerisms and culture of the people - are all part of telling this story. Sleeping on Stones will be the first dramatic feature film shot in Hebron, about Hebron.”
Ballavian has already filmed a trailer for the project on location in the town: “Safety from the settlers [was the biggest concern]. Settlers are foreigners - Americans and Europeans - who have taken over land in Hebron, claiming it theirs due to their extremist religious perspective.
“They walk the streets armed and are known to carry out violent acts that are above Israeli law, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli military occupational presence in Hebron. As the Israeli general who gave us permission to shoot put it: ‘These settlers have created a Wild West out here.’”
[Settlers] walk the streets armed and are known to carry out violent acts that are above Israeli law, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli military occupational presence in Hebron.
Ballivian filmed the trailer with a crew of just 15, but plans to strip that down even further for the full shoot to minimise the attention they draw on the streets. She’ll use a mix of Palestinians and Americans for her crew, alongside her Norwegian DoP.
To make the full feature she needs USD750,000, which she’s trying to raise at the moment through crowd-funding, a process that involves appealing online for small donations from a large number of individuals. She also needs the permission of both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military who protect the settlers. Insisting on a Hebron shoot made the search for a willing producer that much more challenging. The project has another few weeks to raise most of the production budget and the shoot itself is planned for June this year.
For more information on the project and to help fund it, visit www.sleepingonstones.com.
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