In a town surrounded by a wall, a Palestinian skater inspires a community of boys to learn how to fly.
Sajed, a 29 year-old Palestinian skater, mentors a group of youth who skate, do parkour, perform beatbox and hip-hop in Qalqilya, a city surrounded by Israel’s wall. They call themselves the X Games. Their response to living in confinement is to express themselves through movement.
Practicing mostly at night in the back alleys and streets, Sajed and his crew are outsiders in the city and do not have any proper facilities. Their dream is to perform and find a safe space to train where more young Palestinians can experience the freedom they have discovered. To do this they must overcome the physical and cultural walls surrounding them.
The goal of the film is to generate support and funding for the first skate/parkour-park in Palestine. For a summary of the film, scroll to the bottom of the page.
PRODUCTION ROUND 2
The pressure to follow a traditional path is universal. As an American artist, I am very aware of the challenges of breaking from the norm and forging a unique identity. But I come from a more individualistic society. My choices have less impact on the community around me then if I grew up in Sajed's shoes. In Palestine, where land, culture, and identity are constantly contested and defended, having a stable job, getting married and raising a family are much more difficult to achieve - and choosing to deviate from these paths can impact the entire community and society
This past summer, these pressures became overwhelming for Sajed. He felt like he did not belong in Qalqilya - or Palestine. So he closed down his hair salon and used all his savings to find a way out - to Dubai, where his passion for skate culture is more accepted. He found a job but soon discovered that life in Dubai is very expensive and solitary compared to the close-knit society of Qalqilya. Realizing this was not sustainable and missing his community, Sajed returned home in August.
As soon as he returned, Sajed felt like he had to prove to his community, his family, and even himself that he was serious about committing to a life there. In September, he began construction on a new salon. And with the responsibilities of a new business, Sajed began re-evaluating what role skating and the X Games play in his life.
In addition, the X Games have lost some of their unity during this time of transition. Like any group without leadership - especially when it involves teenage boys, natural conflict arises. Two of the young men on the team have been offered scholarships to study abroad. And with Sajed focused on building a new clientele, and the economy in Palestine extremely unstable, tensions remain high around how to move forward as the group is getting older.
Meanwhile this past year has seen a host of changes across the Middle East. As the world examines the next chapter in the Arab Spring, the ability for this new generation in Palestine (and the Arab world) to maintain the traditions and culture they come from while carving new paths forward becomes more challenging and dangerous.
So what will the future be for this avant guarde community in Qalqilya?
Will they disperse or dissolve? How can they continue to grow with these new challenges and opportunities?
In order to find out, I need to return. And I would love your help to get there.
FALL/WINTER 2011 - My team and I filmed for three months, following Sajed and the X Games around the West Bank and Israel. All of this was possible because of the amazing support by my Kickstarter family who championed a campaign last summer to make this project a reality.
SPRING 2012 - I began the long process of translating and editing over 150 hours of footage and searching for additional funding to do so. While this part of the project is still in process. I succeeded in editing a series of rough-cut scenes totaling 15 minutes of footage plus the teaser trailer shown above. During this time I also began conversations with editors and composers about working with me on the film. The following scene shows Sajed meeting Rama, a 10 year old girl who is skating in the traditional village of Jayyous.
SUMMER 2012 - We hired an extraordinary cinematographer, Amir Terkel, who has stepped in at the last minute to help us film critical scenes for when I was unable to be there. This includes filming Sajed packing up the salon and saying goodbye to the team on his way to Dubai, and filming Sajed right after he returned to Qalqilya. This weekend Amir and Mohammad will be following the X Games while they perform at the Taybeh Okterberfest in the West Bank, where I filmed their debut last year. Stay tuned for photos.Skate/parkour-park
In addition to producing the film, we continue to make connections with the skate community around the world and have developed relationships with organizations that build skateparks and playgrounds here in the States and throughout Europe. My producer in Palestine and partner in this project, Mohammad Othman, has visited skateparks in Norway and Denmark throughout the year. We have also received support for this project from the Mayor of Qalqilya and the Governor of the District of Qalqilya.
This Kickstarter project is dedicated specifically to raising funds for our film production in Qalqilya during the months of November and December, 2012. Every dollar will be used to cover the following expenses:
- Travel to Israel and the West Bank
- Transportation around the West Bank (includes moving equipment)
- Room and board in Ramallah and Qalqilya
- External hard drives
This is a very limited budget. There are a few people working with me in the West Bank who have forfeited some salary to make this production feasible. So if we do exceed our Kickstarter goal, I will be able to compensate these generous professionals.
Additional funding would help me make a trip to the Dubai Film Festival in December where I could meet with some of my contacts in Dubai. This could be incredibly productive for the next funding stage of the film.
AFTER THE PLAN Once we film this critical part of the story, we will then proceed to get development funding to cut a 20-30 minute rough cut of the film. This is where my trip to Dubai could be incredibly helpful. With this short rough-cut, we can then look for post-production funding to edit the final cut of the film.
Adam Abel is the producer, director and cinematographer for Qalqilya. Abel is a New York based artist working with photography, video and film. In addition to and in conjunction with this project, he has also developed a nine channel video installation called Palestine Interrupted, which was created using footage from our production last fall. This work will be installed this month at the Siskind Gallery in Rochester, NY. In March, Abel will present Palestine Interrupted at the Society for Photographic Educators (SPE) Annual National Conference. Abel recently completed an MFA in Photography and Related Media at Parsons, The New School For Design.Mohammad Othman
This project would not exist without my producing partner in Palestine, Mohammad Othman. Having been with me from the very beginning, Othman has worked as the line producer, assistant director, photographer, sound engineer, fixer, translator and brother. Othman's background is in campaign organizing for various NGOs around the West Bank. As a tour guide, his client's have included former American President Jimmy Carter and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Since leaving his work as a community organizer, Othman has been working as a line producer for this film and other independent filmmakers working in the West Bank. His work on How Palestinian Bloggers Cover Protests in Their Own Villages by filmmaker Leeor Kaufman was recently published by Time.Leila Buck
Nicknamed "The Kickstarter", my wife, Leila Buck, began filming this project with me while on crutches! Buck, a co-writer on this film, is an Arab-American writer, performer, teaching artist, and State Department Cultural Envoy who has performed and taught storytelling and documentary theater across the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Arab World, most recently in the international tour of “Aftermath”, a documentary play about Iraqi refugees. Buck holds a Master's in Educational Theatre and Middle East Studies from NYU, and is a member of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Her prose, poetry and critical commentary have appeared in American Theatre and Mizna magazine and on “Brian Lehrer Live” and WBAI NY. Her theatrical work has been featured in The New York Times and Lebanon's Daily Star.Leeor Kaufman
Leeor Kaufman, a filmmaker and photographer, has been a critical advisor to the film. He has worked on independent films and commercial television programs as a cinematographer, film editor and director. His short and feature length films have been screened in film festivals and television channels worldwide including MSNBC, Time and ARTE, his photography work was published in numerous magazines including Newsweek, Das Magazine, NZZ and Burn.
Sarena, our social media marketing maven is a freelance producer in film and tv with a background in theater and performance art. Recent credits include associate producer on CRUZANDO (available on amazon instant video) 2nd AD on LAST NIGHT AT ANGELOS (LA Shorts film festival) 2nd AD on BOOSTER (SXSW). Upcoming projects include production coordinator on AMERICAN VAGABOND and Producer on an untitled documentary about Love.
Meet Sajed Abu-Ulbeh, a 29-year-old Palestinian inline skater from the city of Qalqilya in the West Bank.
When Sajed was 12, his father, a Palestinian farmer, gave him his first pair of skates. Soon he began listening to rap and wearing western-style baggy clothing. Everyone thought he was strange. He was an outsider in his own town and planned on leaving to go west.
The Second Intifada interrupted that dream. Qalqilya, once a thriving agricultural center of the West Bank, had become engulfed by the violence. Many suicide bombers came from this city, their images still memorialized all over the streets today. In 2003 Israel built a wall surrounding Qalqilya (and eventually the entire West Bank), cutting it off from most of its land. As a result, there is very little space and few resources for children to grow and develop.
Unable to leave Palestine, Sajed’s calling was to build the community that he never had. Today he mentors a group of 16 youth who skate, perform beatbox, hip hop and parkour. Sajed is also a barber. Tricked out with graffiti and Eminem posters, his salon functions as the headquarters for this outcast group. They call themselves the X Games Team.
Relegated to practicing in the back alleys of Qalqilya at night, the X Games dreams of having a space of their own to fly. In 2010, Sajed turned an indoor gymnasium into a club. But after a few months he was unable to maintain the expenses by himself and had to shut it down.
Sajed now knows that he needs to work with his community, not against it. His strategy is to be in the streets, all the time, in front of everyone. They need to get people’s attention, he says, and over time, this attention will turn curiosity into understanding and support.
The X Games’ journey takes us all over the West Bank. From the traditional village of Jayyous to the center of Bethlehem, we watch the group perform in front of small and large audiences. Their flying, flipping and rhyming become gateways to this newfound freedom, giving them access to places that they would have otherwise never been able to go.
Their passion for movement cannot be contained within the walls surrounding Palestine. They take us into Israel where they meet their Israeli counterparts. It is there that they discover what they are missing the most: A skatepark. And like their group, they want a park that can be a home to a variety of alternative skills - a skate-parkour park.
As the X Games meets other performers, both boys and girls, Palestinians and Israelis, they are forced to question their own idea of what a community should look like. While searching for a space to move freely is a constant challenge, it becomes clear to the team that other walls are just as stubborn as the concrete that surrounds them. Their struggle to define themselves in relation to their passion, their community, and each other, raises larger questions: How do you maintain the faith and traditions you come from, while embracing new ones? Is it possible to pursue your dreams and achieve success and acceptance? How can you sustain your connection to your community, while carving your own unique path?
This film explores these questions and more through the lens of the X Games and their community. We hope you will join us on the journey.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The biggest challenge in filming this subject is both the location and the characters in the film.
However, it may surprise people, but filming a bunch of teenagers is a bigger hurdle in comparison to filming in the West Bank. Following over a dozen boys and young men ranging from 10 - 20 years old requires a lot of stamina. Making plans in advance is incredibly hard, regardless of the culture. The hardest thing for me is filming them when they practice and just trying to figure out where to point my camera when over a dozen bodies are flying in all sorts of directions. But it sure is exciting to be around.
When filming in the West Bank you have to be ready to move at any moment. Time is very fluid considering traveling from place to place can change based on what roads are open or closed that day. Depending on what is happening at an Israeli checkpoint, what may be an hour trip one day could be two hours, or maybe five, the next.
But as an American, I can move very easily compared to the average Palestinian. It is this perspective that makes the idea of what would be considered a "challenge" shift. While it is frustrating to be delayed by a checkpoint, I generally have more confidence that I will be allowed through because of my passport.
In 2011, I made two separate trips to Israel and the West Bank for a total of four months. Whether it is the mayhem of a pack of teenage boys or the systemization of an occupation, as a filmmaker, I am able to deal with these challenges because I have dedicated the time to understanding them and have the experience of finding solutions.
And after four months with the X-Games last year, I have become a member of their group. We are family. I have met with almost all their parents and have been trusted to tell their story. They understand my commitment and have given me incredible access into their lives.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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