This Way Up

PBS Premiere: Aug. 25, 2009Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

POV: Tell us about This Way Up.

Georgi Lazarevski: It's a film about elderly patients in a nursing home who watch the construction of the wall just outside their home. The wall brings upheaval into their lives, as well as the lives of the staff at this nursing home, and it catapults the nursing home into an absurd, Kafkaesque situation on the border of Israel and Palestine.

POV: What led you to make this film? Why did you choose to focus on the nursing home?

Lazarevski: When construction of the wall began in 2004, it was a difficult time. When I discovered the home, it immediately triggered my desire to make a film, without discourse, about a simple reality in a specific place.

The area was declared a military zone, so the nursing home was thrown into a war zone. Each day, the elderly patients watched Palestinians climb over the remaining gaps in the wall to get to work, and sometimes the Palestinian workers were chased through the gardens of the nursing home by members of the military.

I think that the film primarily talks about confinement and the ways in which one can resist it. It shows people who resist confinement on a political level, and also resist confinement — as a result of old age and mortality — on a personal level. There's a cinematic parallel between the two kinds of confinement in the film, and both themes play a central role.

POV: Can you talk about the characters in the film?

Lazarevski: For me, the characters make the film. I became attached to the four characters. Each one resists a tragic situation in a unique way.

Jad, an elderly resident of the Home of Our Lady of Sorrows in East Jerusalem.

Jad is an exceptional character. He's mute, and I like that very much, because Israel/Palestine is a place of tremendous discourse and debate, which I wanted to avoid. Jad's muteness made him an ideal character. I wanted a silent character who would take the audience's hand the same way he guided me through the hospice to discover it through his eyes. He resists in his own way, because when he comes up against the wall, it's no problem; he doesn't fight it, he simply refuses to see it and finds another way to get to his favorite tree to pick fruit. He's a dreamer, and I personally relate to him the most of the people in the film. He finds a way to resist, to fight injustice in his own way, and in that resistance, there's enormous potential to change the world.

Thomas is the intellectual man in the wheelchair. In 1938 he worked for the British government as a translator and he had a very good job. When the British left, they offered him a job in Cyprus, but he decided to stay as a Palestinian and work toward building his country. Therefore, it is even more painful for him toward the end of his life to see that his country still doesn't exist and that there's profound injustice around him. The wall is a perfect illustration of that. What really moves me about Thomas is his combination of lucidity, clairvoyance and intelligence. Despite the deep suffering that he harbors, he maintains a positive outlook and resists with the means available to him: words. He blows up at the television when he sees politicians. He says, "But I have an answer for everything; they can ask me and I will answer them." He knows perfectly well that the political game has no legitimacy and fails to address a tangible reality.

Mary, a resident at the Home of Our Lady of Sorrows in East Jerusalem, and her son George, who has a lot of trouble getting trough the separation wall to visit his mom.Mary is handicapped and spends her days waiting for her son. She became paralyzed after receiving a poorly administered epidural when she was giving birth to her only son. It was very interesting to see this woman resist both a personal tragedy and a political tragedy. The wall prevents her from seeing her son. She is torn: She desires to see her son, but at the same time she's afraid, because each time he visits her he runs a tremendous risk of getting caught by Israeli soldiers when crossing the wall. She continues to resist, in her own way, always with a smile, with joy, with incredible strength. I think this outlook on life really moved me because I don't have that kind of energy.

In Marie — they call her Marie from Bethlehem, because she used to live in Bethlehem before moving into the hospice — I saw a huge potential for humor that enchanted me. She could care less about politics. What interests her is to continue going to the corner store to buy oranges. She was one of the few characters who had moved around a lot on both sides, and once the wall was built she was no longer able to. There's a moment in the film when Marie goes to the corner store that is located on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, which used to be a very busy road. Today, the wall intersects the road. The poor grocer, as Marie says, is "busy eating flies," waiting for a customer. And at one point Marie turns to me and says, "This stranger is here but he can't do anything. He's just here with his camera and he buys me chocolate." And it's true. It's a dramatic and realistic portrait of me. It also sheds light on my pain and my quest for understanding. It's a way to be honest with the viewer by leaving these moments in the film that reflect upon the documentarian's role.

POV: What is your approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as a documentarian?

Lazarevski: I address serious problems, often tragic and desperate, but I seek to approach them from a brighter, more hopeful angle. Humor offers a way to resist desperation and tragedy. The real Palestinian resistance happens on a daily level; it happens when people say, "We are not going anywhere. This is our home and we will continue to lead a normal life."