Not only the audience of the Panorama section - sponsored by city magazines Tip and Radio Eins voted Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ best film. The reader jury of the SiegessĂ¤ule chose the expressive study as their favourite. A professional jury awarded it the Manfred-Salzgeber prize, named after one of the former managers of the Panorama section.
Tomer Heymannâ€™s documentary focuses on an unseen group of foreign workers in Tel Aviv who are doing an important job caring for older people. But immigration policies are strict and the foreign workers are not welcomed. The film shows the different sides of the five Filipinos: Sally, Ceska, Chiqui, Giorgio and Jan. In their spare time they perform in a transvestite group called the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™. Eventually the group have to leave Israel because of visa problems. Two of them return to the Philippines. Three of them go to London where they find work as care workers in a hospital, a retirement home and a private household, continuing to perform as the Â´Paper Dolls from Israelâ€™.
It seems that the groupâ€™s visa problems are not over. Although the Berlinale invited them to take part in the Film Festival, they were denied entry to Berlin by the German Embassy.
AVIVA-Berlin talked with director Tomer Heymann about his experience with the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ and their situation.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you get in touch with the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™?
Tomer Heymann: I was involved in another project. A friend of mine, the producer Claudia Levin, told me that she wanted me to direct a documentary movie about the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™. I was surprised because I had never heard of them before. I asked: "Whatâ€™s going on, I am living in Tel Aviv, I am going to concerts, shows, everything, but who are the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™?" Then it took about six months before I decided to go and look for the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™. I found them in an area where many foreign workers are living. While they were performing at the Independent Philipinian Days in Israel, I filmed them for the first time.
I asked them to check how they feel being filmed by me because my experience is that when you feel at the beginning you donâ€™t feel good about each other, you shouldnâ€™t start working together. I must say I didnâ€™t feel very comfortable working with them in the beginning. I was born and grew up in a village with quite strict roles about how you should behave as a man and how you should behave as a woman. That is why I felt a distance to these men who mixed things up. Today I know that was stupid to think. Five years later, I am hugging them, we are having fun together, kissing, I donâ€™t care about the attitude I grew up with anymore. But before, though I am gay, I hadnâ€™t been close to these issues, I had never met transsexual people before. The movie tries to break up the stereotypes many people still have against transsexuals. I have realised it is not important what a person looks like. I wanted the audience to see what amazing people transsexuals can be.
AVIVA-Berlin: How long did it take to change your opinion of them?
Tomer Heymann: At the first meetings I looked at them very much from the sexual side, I was wondering what they do with their penis, things like that. It took about a year to get over these boundaries.
AVIVA-Berlin: And how long had you known them before the film was finished?
Tomer Heymann: Five years. I met them in 2001.
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you see them as women, or as men?
Tomer Heymann: None of them have had an operation. One of them took hormones for a while. When I talk to Sally I see her as a woman, a woman born as a man. To Jan and Cheska I talk more like I would talk to men. But itâ€™s not that important to them. They told me I could see them as masculine if I am more comfortable with it. They just want me to be true. And we didnâ€™t take that too serious, we started to make jokes about that. I think humour is a good way to handle these things.
AVIVA-Berlin: The Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ earn their living by working as care givers for older Jewish men. Is this common in Tel Aviv that elder men are looked after by Philipinian workers?
Tomer Heymann: For ten years you find more and more families who are employing care givers for their elders. Israel was influenced by the western cultures there. People are more and more keen to have a good professional career and donâ€™t have much time anymore to spend with their parents. The Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ told me that when they came to Israel they were shocked that there were so many retirement homes. In the Philippines there arenâ€™t any. They often live together with the grandparents and thereâ€™s more respect for older people.
AVIVA-Berlin: Immigrant workers are needed for the care of older people, but they canâ€™t get permission to stay in Israel. The legal situation seems to be very unsafe.
Tomer Heymann: The way the government plays with these foreign workers is very unfair and I can tell you, I hate my government about that. The government charged the agencies to get them to Israel but they are not told the whole story. They take them away from their home country and keep their passports. The foreign workers are obliged to behave. If they make any problems they donâ€™t give the passports back, and stamp it with a black visa. The whole situation is very bad.
AVIVA-Berlin: How many illegal people live in Tel Aviv do you think?
Tomer Heymann: I canâ€™t tell you a number but immigration politics are very aggressive, with no respect for the basic rights of human beings. These people are not criminal. In the movie there is a Â´Paper Dollâ€™ who gets arrested after he loses his job. I filmed him in prison. I was not officially allowed but he was visited by us and I took the camera with me. It was a very strong situation. He was very embarrassed and said:"I am not a criminal. I am a normal person. Why do you treat me like a criminal? I havenâ€™t shown this movie in Israel yet but I hope it will help people to understand that there are so many things beyond the walls which are not seen and things we care too less about.
AVIVA-Berlin: Sally went back to Philippines to care for her own mother. How is she getting on there?
Tomer Heymann: She is happy to be with her mother, but at the same time she misses her friends in Israel. Even for Sally, who always felt close to her own family when she was abroad, it is hard to feel at home again in the Philippines. She has taken a lot of the culture and the tradition she experienced in Israel with her. You know, belonging to one place is one of the most important things. The Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ are torn apart there, which is a sad thing. They left the Philippines when they were very young. It is a good thing when you live abroad for a while to open up your mind, but the Â´Paper Dollsâ€™ couldnâ€™t choose the place where they wanted to live or when they wanted to leave. Chiqui, Giorgio and Jan are living in London now. But they didnâ€™t even get a visa to come to the Berlinale. Itâ€™s absurd.
AVIVA-Berlin: What was the reason that the German Embassy denied the visa?
Tomer Heymann: We donâ€™t exactly know why. There was an official invitation from the Berlinale office. Even the German Minister of the Interior has been asked but they donâ€™t want to give visas for Filipinos. Itâ€™s similar in most western countries. The general public want these people to do the bad jobs, but they are not welcomed by the government to take part in the art scene, to come to film festivals, to be seen and accepted as they are.
AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you very much for the interview!