ROMEO AND JULIET WITH A MIDDLE EASTERN TWIST

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Brad Rothschild did not usually work as a storyteller, but that was before he had a story to tell. Homeland, Rothschild’s first produced screenplay, follows the ill-fated love affair of an Israeli and a Palestinian while they both live abroad in Brooklyn. Directed by Michael Elderidge as a cross-ethnic take on Romeo and Juliet, the film won a series of awards at film festivals around the United States this year. Rothschild, also a co-producer, hopes to release the film on DVD and abroad sometime in the near future. The Upper West Side resident, whose professional background includes speechwriting for Yitzhak Rabin during a stint at the United Nations, recently discussed his creative vision and plans for the future.

Brad Rothschild lived in Israel for two years after college.

Brad Rothschild lived in Israel for two years after college.

Q: You’re an American-born Jew. What interested you in a story about interfaith romance?
A: Israel is close to my heart. I lived there for two years after I graduated college. I think about the conflict in the Middle East all the time—more so, I would say, than the average person that doesn’t live there. I had been writing a couple other scripts when the idea for a romance between an Israeli and a Palestinian popped into my head. One of the hardest things to figure out was where they could meet in a natural environment. Having them meet in Israel or Palestine would be really difficult, so I decided on Brooklyn.

Q: Are you trying to instigate a dialogue or merely represent one point of view?
A: Based on the experience I’ve had, it’s always one side talking to the other, and not engaging the other in conversation. Each side is well versed in its own narrative. The idea behind the movie is to show how each side needs to embrace the other in order to move forward. I knew it would be controversial, because that was the nature of it. There are people who will think it tilts to one side, and people who think it tilts to the other side, and hopefully somebody will think, “I never thought of it that way,” and that’s great.

Q: The main Palestinian character in the film is played by an Israeli, Yifat Sharabi. Was this a challenge for her?
A: I knew it was a stretch for her to play that role. We had auditioned actors for a variety of roles, both Israeli and Muslim, who wouldn’t participate once they learned what it was about. That surprised me. I think of actors as being a little more open-minded.

Q: The conflict between your main characters doesn’t really concern religion.
A: You get some religious aspects from the Islamic brother. If there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s got to be away from the realm of religion. Religion makes it much harder to solve. Once you say, “This is what God tells me,” there’s not a lot of room to compromise.

Q: Growing up, did you have religion in your household?

A: I was raised in a conservative Jewish household. I knew enough of the rituals. I’m ethnically Jewish more than religiously Jewish. That’s one of the reasons I love living on the Upper West Side. When I was in Israel, I spent time trying to learn the other side of it as well.

Q: So you were acquainted with Palestinians?

An Israeli-Palestinian love affair grows in Brooklyn in Homeland.

An Israeli-Palestinian love affair grows in Brooklyn in Homeland.

A: Not that much. I took an Arabic language course in Jerusalem. They also had Hebrew language courses for Arab students. In the hallway, you mix with people. Back in New York, I spent more time with people from the Middle East who are not from Israel. While doing research for the movie, I spoke to people in Patterson, New Jersey, where there is a large Palestinian population.

Q: Have you screened the film in the Middle East?
A: We haven’t. We’re going to screen it in April at a film festival in Egypt. I don’t know how it got by the selection committee. There will be people there who will not be happy with what they see. Controversy for a movie like this is good, if only to keep the dialogue going. I would rather people watch it and then comment, rather than boycott it without knowing what it’s about.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m working on a documentary about African asylum seekers who have made their way into Israel. It started when I heard about Darfur refugees who had walked through Egypt into Israel. I started thinking about the parallels between Israel—a country started by Holocaust survivors and refugees—and here you have a group of genocide survivors looking to escape their country. It’s a question of what’s going to happen. Not many people are talking about it.

Q: How about a Homeland sequel?
A: I see the documentary as being part of an ongoing story, where population overflows from countries that are failing. It could be part of an ongoing series. I haven’t really thought about that for  Homeland.

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