Michael Mayer came to the topic of "Out in the Dark," his debut feature which had its world premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and opens in theaters September 27, through a combination of chance and unexpected passion. The Israeli-born filmmaker was eating dinner in Los Angeles with a friend from Tel Aviv who mentioned his work with gay Palestinians living in Israel and told Mayer about their legal, political and emotional uncertainties. "It kind of blew me away," he told me in a phone interview last week. "It was the first time since film school when I was like, 'oh shit, I want to tell that story.'"
On his next trip to Israel, Mayer began to research the issue--"at first, for my own benefit," as he puts it--and what he discovered challenged his preconceptions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Here was a liminal space where political stereotypes were scrambled, where people who wouldn't call themselves political activists collaborated and helped those on both sides of the fence simply because of their sexuality.
The resulting film is a beautiful, nuanced look at a rarely examined subject: the plight of LGBT Palestinians and the intersection of sexuality and politics in the Israeli/Palestinian issue at large. Mayer's film opens with Nimr, a Palestinian psychology student played by Nicholas Jacob in a remarkable first performance, sneaking over the border into Tel Aviv to visit a gay bar, where he meets Roy (Michael Aloni), a successful but unfulfilled Israeli lawyer.
The spark of attraction and connection is immediate, and while at first Nimr fears the entanglements of a transnational love, the two quickly embark on a passionate romance that escalates in intensity--and towards jeopardy--more quickly than either young man expects.
What makes Mayer's films so compelling is the way that the political pitfalls of Nimr and Roy's relationship, which one might expect to be the focus of the film, are instead included for context and color. For Nimr and Roy, the back-and-forth struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is simply the canvas upon which their burgeoning relationship is painted; "Out in the Dark," similarly, treats the love story as the foreground and the two men's political situation as the background.