Where Egypt ends and Israel begins is a little blurred for us. Sinai was an endless, beautiful sandy mass that grew more defined at dawn. We had taken the night bus from Cairo’s Turgoman station and occasionally woke on the 7 hour journey to have our bags searched, to allow some men off to pray, to hear the canned laughter of an Egyptian comedy on the television.
Suddenly there was the sea, the Red Sea, on one side of the road and bedouin camps the other. We had reached the Taba/Eilat border crossing at 6am and everyone was asleep apart from some not-so-friendly camels and a Russian lady who crossed over with us. Straddling the border is the Taba Hilton, a subject for a documentary right there, as tourists come from both sides to dip their toe in the controversial waters.
Once in Israel we took a second bus from Eilat, through the Negev desert, past the Dead Sea and up to Tel Aviv, another 5.5 hours. Our hostel was in the old Yemenite quarter – lots of low-slung, coral coloured houses in the south of the city – next to the HaCarmel Market. It was pretty and quiet but the city is London-expensive which was a shock after Cairo. We had also known for a couple of weeks that we were visiting at a bad time : Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays over the three days of our visit and a lot of businesses would be closing so we were unable to meet as many local contacts as we would have liked.
Nonetheless, our first meeting was a welcome supper with Naomi Michaeli of the British Council who had assembled a dinner of filmmakers and festival staff such as Naomi Levari of Black Sheep Films and Netalie Braun of the Women’s Film Festival. Inevitably, the political situation in the region was discussed with reference to our project and the difficulties (if not impossibilities) inherent in traveling filmmakers to and from Israel and various Arab countries. Our second meeting with Sigal Yehuda of the prestigious Greenhouse Project (a documentary development programme for filmmakers throughout the region) the following day was insightful insofar as we discussed ways in which they were able to circumvent many of these difficulties by hosting the workshops in third party countries and being funded by the EU.
On our last day we met in Rabin Square with David Polonsky – the animator behind the celebrated film Waltz with Bashir, who was keen to get animators involved in the project, designing opening and closing title sequences; and a young production company, Green Productions, headed up by Gal Greenberg who, like everyone we have met so far, was happy to help with in-kind support, production office space and equipment.
Nearly forgot, we did actually have some time off for the first time in 10 days! We walked to Jaffa, the wonderful old part of town with the old harbour and port, and rifled through the flea market for vintage postcards and Jerusalem-ware. We saw a little postal piece of England there outside the current Post Office and walked back up along the seafront, the Mediterranean at last close at hand!