City of Borders opens with Boody, a young gay Palestinian, climbing a fence to sneak into Israel. “We’re not going to do bombs, we’re not going to do anything wrong,” he tells the camera. “We only go to have to have fun, live our life.” Once over the fence, he and his friends go to Shushan, the only gay bar in Jerusalem. Adam, an atheist Israeli, soon joins him, as well as lesbian couple Samira, an Israeli Palestinian, and Ravit, a Jewish Israeli.
Shushan is a place where gay and straight, Arab and Israeli peacefully coexist for the purpose of having a good time. The acceptance of the bar has opened the eyes of many. One of the Israeli patrons explained that Shushan made him realize everything he thought was based on hate. “I kissed an Arab,” he exclaimed. “This place allowed that kiss to happen.”
“The moments when people come together are not really being reported,” said Yun Suh, director, producer and writer of City of Borders. She hopes that people walk away from the film able to put human faces on an area wracked with conflict.
Jerusalem is a sacred place to all three major religions of the area: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Suh shows not only the happiness in Shushan, but also the struggle it must wage against the religions, which stand united in their hate for one another.
Despite the fundamentalists against him, Boody remains religiously observant. City of Borders shows him praying in his room, saying that he’s sure God hasn’t given up on him.
The Kuchus of Uganda (watch the film above) depicts another situation where religion prevents the LGBT community from living freely. The documentary focuses on Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organization that aims to decriminalize homosexuality by helping people understand it. Proposals have been put forth to make Kuchus, as they call themselves, subject to the death penalty. Unfortunately, Uganda’s overwhelming Christian majority makes it difficult for SMUG to get their point across.
During one of the pivotal scenes, members of SMUG go to Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest and biggest university, for a debate about homosexuality and are stunned when medical students use the Bible to oppose their lifestyles.
“I thought it would be a very objective debate because of the nature of the place and the people we were going to debate with,” explained SMUG member Victor J. Mukasa. “Once the debate started, it was different.” The debate wasn’t really one where people were interested in hearing SMUG’s point of view. It quickly devolved into a stunning madhouse of jeering and laughing.
Sa’ar, the owner of Shushan, knows what it is like to be ignored and persecuted by the religious. As the only gay city council member in Jerusalem, he had to endure taunts from religious council members behind the scenes. He’s gotten so many death threats that receiving an envelope containing a flour-like substance doesn’t even shake his calm.
Suh greatly admired Sa’ar’s bravery. “I always looked upon the bar owner and realized I had nothing to complain about.”
Suh hopes her film will make people want to talk about the issues it covers. “It’s most interesting when families want to share it to discuss,” she said.
The movie has also been an important milestone in the lives of the people involved, especially Boody. “This film – he says it’s like his diary,” she said, adding that Boody recently got a tattoo inspired by the documentary. Suh also encourages viewers to get in touch with the documentary’s subjects via Facebook, stating that they always like to hear from viewers.
This review was originally published at The Concordian on September 26, 2010.