Gay man leaves a religious family
by Sari Staver
The idea for the new documentary Who's Going to Love Me Now? began like a lot of gay stories: with a one-night stand. The film, winner of Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, screens Sat., July 30, 9:15 p.m. at the Castro Theatre, part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The film, directed by Tomer and Barak Heymann, also screens the next evening at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley.
The idea for the film came to Tomer Heymann in 1994, years before he'd made his first film, after a steamy 12-hour tryst at his Tel Aviv apartment that followed a chance meeting with Saar Maoz at a nearby cafe. Though not yet a filmmaker, Heymann knew a good story when he heard one. Maoz, then 21 and about to move to London to start a new life, told Heymann, then 25, that he'd had a bitter falling out with his conservative family when they learned he was gay. Maoz was asked to leave the religious kibbutz where he lived with his parents, five brothers, and sister.
In a telephone interview from Tel Aviv, Tomer Heymann recalls their first night together. "When we met, we had a strong physical attraction," he said. "We seemed to have much in common." Heymann noted that both came from large Jewish families. "But Saar's family did not understand or accept his homosexuality. I distinctly remember how depressed he was about the situation, and he told me he had even considered suicide."
Maoz moved to London soon after, and the men didn't stay in touch. But in the meantime, Heymann had begun making films. Seven years later, on a trip to London, Heymann and Maoz had a chance encounter on the street. Heymann, travelling with his camera, asked his friend if he would sit for an interview. Three hours later, "I knew this was a story I wanted to tell," said Heymann.
Maoz's bitter struggle with his family had continued, but in the meantime, he had found a good job in London with Apple, and had joined the London Gay Men's Chorus, where he found support and camaraderie as an out gay man. But when a three-year-long relationship ended, Maoz went into a tailspin of drugs and unprotected sex, and he'd recently learned he was HIV+, he told the filmmaker.
"This was the first time I had met someone who shared their story that they were HIV+," said Heymann. "I know that sounds strange now, but this was 12 years ago. In Israel back then, HIV was not something discussed openly."
Certain that the story had the potential to become a film, Heymann had to put the project on hold after Maoz asked him to delete the footage. This time, though, the men stayed in touch, and when Maoz visited London in 2012, he thought it might be time to tell the story of his struggles fitting in with his Orthodox family. He was still in good health, but when he confided his HIV status to his parents, they both asked him to consider moving back home.
"Saar told me that if I could convince his family to be interviewed, we could go ahead with the film," said Heymann.
After several visits and many hours of getting acquainted, the family agreed to be filmed, Heymann said. Maoz's father, a strict military man; and his brother, married with his own children, were both outspoken in their fear of homosexuality and misconceptions about whether HIV could be casually transmitted. His mother, a more sympathetic figure, clearly loved her son and hoped he would move back to Israel.
The film describes Saar Maoz's complicated decision about whether to remain in London or move back to Israel. His ultimate decision to that question is also the answer to the film's title, Who's Going to Love Me Now?
Convincing all of Maoz's family members to be interviewed "was a very long and difficult process," said Heymann. "Ultimately, we were able to convince them that if they would participate, they could become ambassadors of a new message about people with HIV living in religious communities, where just being gay is a heavy issue. Once I got to know the family, I found them to be very brave, honest, and open. The film is the story of an outsider in a religious Jewish family in Israel."
Another film by Tomer Heymann, Mr. Gaga, also screens at the Castro on Sat., July 30, and at the Roda Theatre on Sun., July 31. This documentary, which won the Audience Award at South by Southwest Film Festival, is the story of Ohad Naharin ("Mr. Gaga"), Israel's rock star choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company.