Where do the boundaries for kindness and compassion lie? This and other indispensable questions are answered in Yariv Mozer’s thought-provoking documentary. Shedding light on the untold narratives and plight of three gay Palestinian refugees forced to find asylum in Israel, The Invisible Men tackles sensible topics and far-reaching issues that extend far beyond the lives of LGBT citizens. Despite the controversy surrounding it, the personal and nuanced approach Mozer relies on makes it clear that his documentary is not only well-intentioned, but also highly efficient at challenging the status quo and legitimacy of core policies.
A growing number of gay Palestinians are left with no choice but to seek political asylum in third countries. Hated, disowned or predatorily harassed and maltreated by others or even those closest to them, these individuals are forced to abandon their homes, identity and entire culture. Unfortunately, their escape turns into another dreaded prison, as they often end up in Tel Aviv and are hounded by the Israeli government, left with no passport or resources and completely isolated. Moreover, anyone kind enough to come to their aid or offer them shelter is criminalized and has to fear for their life.
Despite these daunting conditions, three homosexual men who sought asylum in Israel are brave enough share their stories with the world. Finding immense courage in their hearts, the refugees have agreed to be filmed and have their faces be known, refusing to fall victim any longer to a system of oppression. Amongst them is Louie, a thirty-two-year-old gay man from Palestine who has been left without a nationality or family, illegally living in Tel Aviv for the last eight years. There is also Faris, a young man from West Bank who was almost killed by his own family after being outed as homosexual. And lastly, Abdu is only twenty-four years old, but has been accused of being an Israeli spy and tortured by the Palestinian security forces.
Mozer’s project does not shy away from warranted criticism and honest reflection. It raises important points regarding the current asylum restrictions in Israel, as well as the most pervasive concerns surrounding policy change and the implications of failing to implement them in the future. Whether it is being outed as gay in Gaza and the West Bank or living illegally as a Palestinian in Tel Aviv, the aftermath of the current political climate in the two regions could not be clearer and more frightening. From being disowned or threatened by one’s family and shunned by society to living in terror and being persecuted by misguided authorities, the lives of many Palestinian homosexuals are irrevocably devastated.
In as little as sixty-eight minutes, Mozer’s documentary manages to address a myriad of political, social, LGBT-centered and even human rights issues that need urgent attention. But what makes The Invisible Men even more remarkable is its good-natured, candid and at times light-hearted approach. Scenes like the one where Abdu shows his gay acquaintances from a Middle Eastern social networking site or the nitty-gritty details of the night party in Tel Aviv provide much needed relief and juice up the documentary just enough to keep its audience engaged all throughout. The filmmaking style and close-up camera angles also work to create a more suitable climate for sharing intimate aspects of the refugees’ experience. Mozer does not make the mistake of cramming too much stale or impersonal information into his project. Instead, he focuses on the raw reality of being gay in an intolerant environment, as well as the impact of collective or political affairs on individual lives. As such, there are no interviews of officials, families or friends of the three men. There are only direct accounts from the subjects speaking their truth, which are far more authentic and effective in delivering the message.
When screened at the San Francisco and Vancouver Queen Film Festivals, The Invisible Men did not receive a warm welcome. It was accused of pinkwashing and, due to it being partially subsidized by the Israeli government, underwent an academic and cultural boycott. However, in spite of these serious accusations, one honest, unbiased look at Mozer’s documentary reveals that it is not only impartial, but also heavily critical of the Israeli government. The project denounces the state’s officials, the military, its collective animosity towards minorities, but also the aftermath of its policies and the occupation. Although the latter does overlap with queer rights, the director’s analysis is incriminating on both counts. The film does not hesitate to recognize that Tel Aviv is a far more favorable and tolerant environment for homosexuals. On the other hand, it also condemns the state’s unfounded claim that providing asylum to gay Palestinians will create a precedent for permission to return.
The Invisible Men opens up a clear-sighted and necessary discussion on topics that have far more extensive implications than LGBT rights. Its successful storytelling and compelling message both bank on the documentary’s intimate connection to its subjects. As Mozer himself puts it, it was his intention to bring these invisible men to the public eye, but “it is their bravery –to take cameras and fight for their lives – that inspired this film”.
Read our interview with Director Yariv Mozer