The Garden, a neighbourhood in Tel Aviv, is no Garden of Eden. In fact, it’s not a garden at all, but a block of four streets in a run-down part of the city where foreign workers, boys and transsexuals live and work as prostitutes selling drugs. Garden, a film by Israeli directors Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash, is a window on the world of 17 year-old Nino, an illegal Palestinian and his 18-year-old protector, a world-weary Arab-Israeli friend known as Dudu. The Garden in Tel Aviv has a lot in common with Darlinghurst’s infamous Wall.
The documentary premiered in Amsterdam last year where I had an opportunity to interview the filmmakers and find out why an Israeli husband-and-wife team developed an interest in the lives of two Arab gay boys. Shatz and Barash are used to making documentaries that challenge the status quo. Their previous film, Diamonds and Rust, looked at the travails of a multinational crew aboard a diamond dredging ship off the coast of Namibia. This time around they focused their cameras on their own hometown where they followed the two boys literally everywhere for a year, using microphones in customers’ cars, following them into hospital and when one of them was locked up in a reformatory.
Shatz and Barash say they were interested in making a film about issues such as homelessness, male prostitution and homosexuality, all largely taboo or little discussed in Israel. Garden reveals the large number of boys who have run away as young children, have been raped and who then turned to prostitution to survive. Barash did most of the filming and formed a very close bond with the boys. The relationship between Nino and Dudu and the filmmakers is palpable, making it one of the strengths of the film. More than anything, you share the pain of teenagers who are risking their lives having sex with unknown men on a daily basis, who have nowhere to live, no connections apart from their mobile phones, who are on the run from authorities and who believe there will only be peace when God dies.
This unpolished and candid portrait of two mutually dependent friends unfolds against the background of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is also a story of friendship, loyalty and hope despite the tense relations between the streetwalkers and the police. Garden is one of a small stream of films coming out of Israel which successfully transcend a black-and-white view of the conflict between the major players in the struggle for territory to look at issues of Arab culture, homosexuality, the impact of the political situation on all levels of society, illegals, resident status and the omnipresence of God. It’s a must see at this year’s QueerDOC.