Joseph Shamash believes that film creates space in real life for conversations to happen. That is his intention with his “One Wish for Iran, Love Israel,” video, which has gone viral since it was uploaded to YouTube in early August.
The video shows Israelis and Palestinians from different walks of life and religious backgrounds sharing a wish for the new Iranian president, Hassan Rowhani, on his inauguration, and for the Iranian people. Shamash made the video with two of his colleagues, spoken word artist Andrew Lustig and cinematographer Jeff Handel, as part of their One Wish Project, a documentary series to “bridge the gap between peoples in conflict.” The team also made a “One Wish Jerusalem” video, and soon they are planning to release a third video, focusing on the religious-secular divide in Israel.
Making “One Wish for Iran” was a very personal endeavor for 32-year-old Shamash, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Iran. He has worked in television in Los Angeles, and recently spent a year and a half at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, in Jerusalem. This fall he is starting a master’s program in Jewish education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. There he intends to develop conflict resolution curricular materials to accompany the “One Wish” videos. Shamash spoke with the Forward’s Renee Ghert-Zand.
Renee Ghert-Zand: How did you come up with the concept for the “One Wish” videos?
Joseph Shamash: I arrived in Israel in December 2011 and staffed a [Taglit-] Birthright trip. It bothered me that the participants told me they had been so afraid to come to Israel, because they thought they were entering a war zone. But when they step off the bus, they’re like, “Wow this is totally different from what I expected — and I had been so afraid, I wasn’t even going to come.” I was struggling with how to deal with this.
Then, when I saw a “Fifty People One Question, Tehran” video [an online video series asking everyday Iranians, “What do you wish to happen by the end of the day?”], I immediately thought, we have to do this in Israel. I thought it was a great way to try to show that question that I struggled with when I first got to Israel: How do you show people’s actual beliefs, the realities on the ground, in a five-minute video?
Did you just go up to random people on the street for the interviews?
My crew did a tremendous job in approaching people in a nonaggressive, nonprovocative way. We had a little makeshift sign that said, “Time for a question?” and went around with it. We just had conversations with people first to get them comfortable and to encourage them to go in front of the camera. We tried not to ask the question until they were in front of the camera. If they were feeling very hesitant, we told them the question beforehand.
We had a photo of Hassan Rowhani, and we asked them if they knew who it was. The majority thought it was Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, but a lot of them knew that he was the new president of Iran but didn’t know his name. From there we asked for a wish for him. Sometimes they kept it very short; sometimes they said very interesting things. Some of the things we showed were the best of the conversations that ensued.
Some people didn’t get on camera, but we still had amazing conversations with them. It was an unbelievable way to get to know Israel, the people of the country, and to understand how they live their daily lives.