An Interview with Rami Alayan, writer and co-creator of Love, Theft and Other Entanglements. Set in the West Bank, the film is about a car thief who backs into a crime much bigger than he expected.
How is the film connected to the Bay Area?
The first job I got out of college (in Boston) was in the Bay Area. I studied computer engineering. The minute I got the job and was set to move, I went to do what I really wanted to do, I signed up for my first screenwriting class at UC Berkeley Extension before I even landed in San Francisco.
At the same time my brother, who is five years younger than me (Muayad) wanted to do film school – he wasn’t buying into the whole Palestinian family push for science and engineering. So he came here and started in San Francisco, he was doing film and I was doing screenwriting and that’s how it started.
As Palestinians (we are from East Jerusalem) we wanted to do something that makes a difference, but doesn’t get us arrested (laughs). After UCB Extension, I ended up taking about 10 classes at UCLA online. In the Bay Area, I reached out to one or two people to run stories by and we discuss them. I also run things by filmmakers who live here — or, who lived here. Quite a few of them moved to LA or just left the Bay Area.
What’s frustrating about the Bay?
Part of it has to do with a changing San Francisco. When I first moved to SF 12 years ago it was a very different place. There has been an exodus of people, definitely in the domain of the arts.
My brother used to say San Francisco is a place where you go the bar and there’s a good chance there’s a filmmaker sitting there and you can have a conversation and work on a project together. It’s a bit harder for that to come about.
To be fair, I’m not writing about the Bay Area, so I’m a bit separated from those people who are. I feel like there are a lot of stories from where I’m from. What I’m doing isn’t Hollywood and it’s not independent (film about life in the US), it’s foreign film.
There’s also the reality – my reality – of someone who works a full time job, then my other full time job at nights and on weekends. You can only go so far as part of a network of filmmakers – it’s just a limitation of life.
We premiered in February 2015 in Berlin (Berlin Film Festival), then Edinburgh, Galway, London East End, five in Europe. A couple more coming up there later in the year.
The movie – how did it come to mind?
My brother and I co-wrote it. It’s super indie – Palestinian films have been for the most part European co-productions. With the exception of Omar, which was a big budget for Palestine, $2 million, I think. So for us, we were faced with spending 5-10 years trying to get a European co-production formula working, and it may or may not work. And we went to a workshop that was put on by the British Council in Palestine which was very useful. And the conclusion was that co-production is a hard process and might take forever, if you have an idea that doesn’t need co-production, you should definitely do it.
We wanted to try the American independent film model where it was Do It Yourself, and do it in Palestine. And this has been tried in many places, but for whatever reason it’s never been tried in Palestine in this way (non-documentary). We said, okay, we want to this, and a) we may set a trend and, more importantly, b) we learn what we can do with local resources for future projects.
We wanted to tell the story of somebody who is fed up and wants to leave. That’s a sentiment that’s very common in Palestine and things have been getting worse and worse. Under the pretext of peace negotiations, a lot of things were getting worse and nobody was paying attention, at least not politically, because there’s this assumption that negotiations are going on.
So we thought of this person who is trying everything to get out and he does the one thing to get him into deeper trouble which is the stealing of the car. Another thing we wanted to do with the choice of the character was we wanted to step away from the typical depiction of Palestine and Palestinians that’s in the media partly because of news and partly because of co-production pressure to make movies that will sell in their countries. So, you get The Palestinian National Hero, or The Traitor, or The Victim. We want someone who is a regular person to tell a story about Palestine and the situation there. He is an anti-hero, he’s a car thief, he’s someone everyone loves to hate. But he gets into trouble that’s bigger than himself.
And we made the choice to make it in black in white for similar reasons. Which is partly the mood of Palestine today and almost hopeless grey situation, and it takes away the unnecessary details of reality and helps us give a fairytale feel that we were going for with the film. He has a lot of coincidences that happen in fairytales – even though each one of them could very well happen in Palestine. The overall feel is fairytale, surreal, absurd.
When we were writing the script we were debating, is this going to be a comedy or serious. There’s an expression in Arabic – the worst of tragedies makes you laugh. You can laugh about it as much as you can cry about it. So when we were writing and these funny moments came up, we asked is this a comedy. No, it’s not really a comedy, it’s absurd funny, awkward funny. That’s what the tone of the film is.
[End of part one. In the second part of our interview with Rami we learn more about the filmmaking process and the many absurdities of filming in the West Bank. We also learn whether and how Bay Area audiences may view Love, Theft and Other Entanglements.]