POV: How long did it take you to shoot 9 Star Hotel, and what was the process like?
Ido Haar: I spent around six months researching, trying to understand the situation and meeting people, and one year shooting in the hills with Ahmed and Muhammad.
Most of the time I was alone with a camera. I don’t speak Arabic, so in the beginning, I went to the hills with a good friend of mine who speaks Arabic. He translated most of the conversations for me. But one day he couldn’t come, and I decided to go by myself. That day, I felt that the things that happened on camera were more powerful and stronger than they had been before. After that, I decided to go by myself and shoot without understanding the language. Things were much more authentic like that because I managed to disappear in a way.
POV: You’re not an Arabic speaker. How did you decide what to film if you can’t understand what you’re characters are saying?
Haar: Because I do not speak Arabic, I shot a lot of footage. Most of the time I was sure that important things were being told/said, so I kept filming constantly. Then I discovered the material in the editing room. But while I was filming, I was looking for drama. Often, the drama was in the faces of the characters, and I found myself shooting one person while others are talking. It was hard, but I think for this film it was the best way to do it. There were also many times when I wanted to understand what people were talking about, and so I asked them in Hebrew — they all speak Hebrew because they’ve been working in Israel for so long — and they would tell me.
POV: Can you describe the film stylistically? What was your approach and what were you trying to achieve?
Haar: I wanted to observe, and stay aside, and the fact that I didn’t understand the language actually helped me in that respect. Being observational was more interesting to me because when I tried to ask questions or hold interviews, things were told to the camera that sounded like things I had heard in political discussions. Sometimes I would ask the characters why they talked about particular things or to talk more if there was something interesting, but most of the film is observational.
POV:There are a lot of night scenes in the film, and it looks like you’re just shooting using ambient lighting. Could you talk about shooting the night scenes?
Haar: That was very hard. Most of the film happened during the night, and it’s hard to shoot, so I took small mini-lights and used them when I could. I also used the light from the bonfires that the workers gathered around. It was difficult to work in those kinds of conditions, but it was also very effective because it brought to mind something about living in the shadows, living in the dark. That’s the way the workers are living, and so the conditions fit the atmosphere that I wanted in the film.