Israeli director Ido Haar grew up in a village on the edge of a pine forest halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. When he went home to visit his parents, he often saw men running frantically across the highway. He says “the fear in their eyes haunted me, and I wanted to find out where they were running to and whom they were running from.”
In our interview with Haar, he tells us that he went into the forest and started talking with the men.
I discovered that the forest — my own backyard — serves as a hideout for thousands of Palestinians looking for work in Israel. I found a secret camp on the other side of the forest, but didn’t find any people. Whenever I came around, they would flee. My persistence made them curious, and eventually they stayed put. Since then, I have been documenting a vibrant community of young men and the impossibly hard and strangely vital lives they live. My camera follows two best friends. Muhammad is the charismatic leader, the one who always has the answers. Ahmad is the sole provider for his mother and seven siblings. I spent nights and days with them, experiencing, as much as an outsider can, a life of fear, uncertainty, madness and grace and trying to understand how they live despite their circumstances, which to me seem unlivable — in the open, in the dark, exploited, away from home and family — indeed, how they simply survive.
In the beginning, when I started trying to shoot the film, there was a lot of suspicion; the workers were sure that I was involved with the Israeli Army or the Israeli police. But after awhile, they understood that I’m interested in their story. Still, it took me months to find the two main characters in the film: Ahmad and Muhammad. There was something in their faces that caught me before I understood their stories. I felt as though the camera chose those two as my characters.
Read more from Haar’s interview, find out more about the making of 9 Star Hotel and learn about the challenges and the surprising benefits of filming characters who speak a language you don’t understand in Haar’s Production Journal.
9 Star Hotel is not about political problems or ideologies. It is about the human suffering caused by unsolved political conflicts. It is a portrait of individual tragedy and resilience in the face of political contention.