The Grace Within the Pain

Director Udi Aloni returned last week from an eight-day trip to the Kashmir region in northern India. There he began filming a documentary about the Kashmiri fight for independence. Aloni hopes to raise funds to continue work on the film, and to return to Kashmir this summer. In February he will travel to the Berlin International Film Festival, where he has been invited to sit on a panel of judges. The panel is to award the Manfred Salzgeber Prize to a film in the regular festival program or in the Panorama Audience Award section.

At the center of Aloni's new film, five Kashmiri freedom fighters will serve as a vehicle for the director "to talk about yearning for freedom, accompanied by a search for cultural and religious meaning." Aloni got the idea for the film at the Tokyo Film Festival, where he presented his film "Forgiveness," to be released this week on DVD.

"After the screening [in Tokyo], there was a discussion of my perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. "At the end, a journalist approached me and told me that my comments reminded her of the conflict in Kashmir. She said she had spent some time filming there, and that she was willing to give me her footage so I could make it into a film."

Aloni promised the journalist he would go to Kashmir for a few days with a cameraman, to evaluate the concept. "After 'Forgiveness,' which had an imaginary element, it appeared right to do something different - something documentary," he says. But he is quick to add that his interpretation of the term "documentary" may differ somewhat from accepted definitions. For example, he says he may decide to include a short, fictional scene, based on a text written by a man killed in Kashmir. "Like in my previous film, 'Local Angel' - it was a documentary film not in the sense of documenting reality, but in the attempt to depict ethnologic-political thought," he explains.

Aloni was enchanted by Kashmir, which is caught in the center of the conflict between India and Pakistan. "I felt like Alice in Wonderland passing through a tiny door into an entirely different world - to paradise," he says. The sharp contrast between the mountainous region's beauty and the massive Indian Army presence fascinated him. He was particularly impressed by the decision by a majority of Muslims there to abandon their militant struggle in favor of nonviolent measures, in the spirit of Mahatma Ghandi, and their desire to live alongside Hindu Kashmiris in a liberated Kashmir.

Yasin Malik, 40-year-old leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), will be one of the central characters in the film. Malik was behind the 1980s' militant uprising, and was the first to surrender arms 10 years ago to adopt non-violent resistance.

"When people think about Kashmir and India, they often think about New Age spirituality, and almost never think about the political problems that exist there," Aloni notes. "It is still very difficult to compare the situation there with what is happening in Israel. But the respect that Muslims show for Hindis - for example, they do not eat beef out of consideration for their neighbors - is impressive. The combination of the possibility to coexist and a possible failure, just like in our situation, is very painful, and I am interested in trying to find a place of grace within that pain."