Through a partnership of Palestinian director Sameh Zoabi and Search for Common Ground founder John Marks comes Under the Same Sun, set in the near future in Israel and Palestine.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival was the site of the film’s West Coast premiere on Saturday, Jan. 4, with both Marks and Zoabi on hand for a discussion of the movie. Before the film started, Marks addressed the audience.
“You might find this film to be a fantasy, but the idea is to understand this could happen with the right leadership,” said the founder of the nonprofit organization that seeks to end violent conflict.
A Palestinian businessman, Nizar (Ali Suliman), and an Israeli businessman, Shaul (Yossi Marshek), have a secret business meeting in France. Shaul owns a solar-power company and is pitching the idea of selling solar panels to Palestinians, due to the actual facts that Palestinians get the vast majority of their electricity from Israel, and that areas near Israeli settlements often don’t have electricity.
Shortly after the two men begin their business venture, Israeli and Palestinian press get wind of it—and both men face opposition from their families, friends and their fellow citizens.
The two men then take to social media in an attempt to change the situation. In a fictional series of events that follow, Israel and Palestine fall under the proposed two-state-solution—and there is eventually peace between the two countries, thanks in large part to the efforts of the two businessmen.
Yes, the film is a fairy tale, of sorts. It proposes the idea that good intentions and good business can change the world—even in an area with deep-rooted issues like the Middle East. However, this fairy tale does have some truth behind it: Social media has helped build the blueprints for change in other Middle Eastern countries, most notably Egypt. Perhaps such a thing could happen, but as they say: It’s only a movie.
Before the Q&A session, John Marks explained how the filming process shared similarities with the business relationship of the two lead characters in the film: It was a collaborative effort. Zoabi was not allowed into Israel, for example, so he led the scenes in Palestine, while another crew filmed on the Israeli side.
“We became experts in how to make a film in the Israeli and Palestinian territories,” Marks said.
Zoabi said he made an effort to show both perspectives in Under the Same Sun.
“Working with different crews was also part of the process for me, and I was always trying to push everyone to see the two sides of the story,” Zoabi said.
The Q&A session that followed the film was decidedly intense. The film received loud applause from the audience as the credits rolled—but not everyone was clapping. Some audience members sat with arms crossed, and even looked agitated; that agitation came through in some of the questions.
“I’m curious whether the propaganda changes to fact—so I’d like to know: What is propaganda, and what is real?” one woman angrily asked Marks and Zoabi regarding the assertion that some Palestinian areas near Israeli settlements don’t have electricity.
Marks, a Jewish-American, responded that the Jewish settlers in the West Bank often don’t allow nearby Palestinians to have electricity or running water in their villages. “It’s an occupation, and it’s arbitrary; they act in arbitrary fashion, and it’s usually due to security reasons. Occupation is never a good thing,” Marks said.
Another man heckled both Marks and Zoabi over their failure to explain why there is a wall between Israel and Palestine, and chided them for not offering details about the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israel which began in 1987. The filmmakers responded that the film was made for those who already know the basic history and reality of the conflict.
One woman criticized the filmmakers by telling them that there would never be peace due to the fact that Palestine does not acknowledge Israel’s existence.
However, not all audience members expressed such hopelessness. One man asked the Palestinian and the Jewish American a question I had myself: Can the peace depicted in Under the Same Sun realistically happen?
“A lot of people say that something needs to be done,” Zoabi said. “Well, we have the politicians controlling everything, and that voice that something could be done and should be done—I try to visualize that it could be a possibility. I’ve seen it happening … where individuals take matters into their own hands in Palestine and Israel. I think it will end up being like this soon, hopefully. Who does that? How do they do that? The film gives us an idea of that possibility.”
Under the Same Sun is a visionary film that presents a real possibility for change and a brighter future. Zoabi is an up-and-coming director who proved that he can pack an emotional and social message into a 75-minute film. We’ll likely see more of him in the future.