PeaceWorx is a short film series produced by Blue Sky Project that explores the role of often small, homegrown actions that counter violence, isolation, indifference, and hopelessness.
In the summer of 2014, I was in Jerusalem filming a series of conversations with senior Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders. That summer was a complicated and dangerous time in Jerusalem. It began on June 12 with the murder of three Israeli teens and then on July 2 the retaliatory kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian boy. These tragedies set off a chain of events that became known as the Silent Intifada.
The fighting peaked in July just as we started filming. Eventually it affected our schedule, so I found myself with a lot of down time as we waited for approvals and negotiated the complex relationships between these faith leaders in a period of conflict. I spent a good while drinking coffee at the White Sisters Convent across from the Damascus Gate. While there I was introduced to some local artists who in their varied ways were working for peace. It started casually, but eventually I began to film the artists and their work.
The short film Notes from Jerusalem came out of these interactions. I call it “Notes” because it isn’t really a finished narrative. It is more musings on what grassroots peace building looked like at the moment of intense violence. One of the things that this experience has left me pondering is how powerful art can be when language stops answering. It is art that can pick up where the conversation stops.
I write this as I remember Mahmoud Alaa Elddin, dressed in the concentration camp stripes of Nazi Germany, confronting the young Israeli soldiers in a West Bank village. At the time, I was so uncomfortable with the imagery that it felt like an affront. But now I see that he desperately wanted these young men to see him from a different angle, to ask the question through this bit of street theater. Is this who I am to you? Or maybe, this is what you have become to me. No matter his intent, the impact on the soldiers was palpable. It affected and frightened them. I was honestly worried at a time of such heightened violence that it would be seen as co-opting their story. However, I was wrong. It hurt, and it demanded their attention.
The common thread for all the artists I had the opportunity to meet was that, through art, perceptions can be changed and a new way of thinking can emerge.
David B. Marshall is an Emmy Award-winning producer, director, and editor. He is the founder and director of Blue Sky Project, a not-for-profit media foundation. His films reflect his interest in human rights, social justice, and the power of contextualized history.