The Reports on Sarah and Saleem
by director Muayad Alayan
As a teenager growing up in Jerusalem, the first job opportunity I found, like the majority of young Palestinians from East Jerusalem, was on the western side of the City. In most cases, this would be the first encounter for a Palestinian with Israeli society, other than the Israeli soldiers and policemen you encounter regularly on the eastern side.
It was there, at a café and hotel where I worked in the early 2000s, that I witnessed for the first time the relationships that were happening in secret and in the shadows of the city between Palestinian and Israeli colleagues of mine. I remember the stress and worry that everyone felt for these people, because we knew they were playing with fire. Anything can go wrong at any minute because that is the way things are in Jerusalem. In our intensely segregated city full of security-paranoid police, it’s never just about sex or affairs.
During those years and many years that followed, the Israeli army periodically invaded the Palestinian territories and thousands of documents and archives were confiscated from the headquarters of Palestinian governmental and non-governmental institutions. Hundreds of arrests took place in the weeks and months that followed. Some arrests were based on non-validated documents and a lot of people got into trouble due to name mix-ups and revenge reporting. Some documents also shed light on relationships between Palestinians and Israelis and brought them under scrutiny of the security establishment.
It was these two real life experiences that stayed with me and started the development of The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Only in Jerusalem, with its highly segregated communities and with its deep underlying divides, could such an affair have such consequences. Not only for the couple involved but their partners and everyone around them as well. This was an opportunity to reflect on the human condition of the people of the city and how tormenting the systems are that have been created to sustain the divide.
Jerusalem is a main character in the film and I wanted to share a slice of what life feels like here with the audience. Far away from the romanticized narratives that are common about the city, I wanted to portray a deeper human story that stems from Jerusalem’s social, political and economic realities, which are quite different from other parts in the region. The character of Jerusalem will be felt in the way it looks and sounds as well as in the way it impacts the lives of the characters.
I was very lucky to work with an amazing cast who either had been victims themselves or had first hand experiences with the political and social reality here. They brought so much of their lives and souls to the screen. Together with a film team that pushed so hard against all the odds and the hardships of production in Palestine, the vision for this film was made possible and we managed to share it with you and with audiences around the world.
I hope you enjoy The Reports on Sarah and Saleem and I sincerely hope the emotions and thoughts that stay with you will trigger discussions with your friends and family.