Spanning seven years, the award-winning "My So-Called Enemy" follows six Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls who participated in a cross-cultural leadership program.  The film documents how the transformative experience of knowing their "enemies" as human beings meets with the realities of their lives back home in the Middle East.  Through their coming-of-age narratives, audiences see how creating relationships across emotional, ideological, religious and physical borders are first steps towards resolving conflict.

This film offered our campus a complex and compelling look at the real lives of young women in Israel and Palestine, sparking deep conversations about nationhood, identity, forgiveness and relationships. I don’t believe we’ll find anything better than what "My So-Called Enemy" presented.

Ross Wantland, Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Synopsis: 

In the spirit of Michael Apted's "7 Up" series, the award-winning "My So-Called Enemy" has been praised as "moving, powerful, intelligent and brave‚" (The Nation) and "a mesmerizing, eye-opening film that shows the true power of friendship and empathy to conquer political boundaries." (Teen Voices)

Spanning seven years, "My So-Called Enemy" follows six Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls committed to justice and mutual understanding after participating in a women's leadership program called Building Bridges for Peace.  This heart and mind-opening film, from Emmy Award-winning director Lisa Gossels (The Children of Chabannes), documents how the young women's transformative experience of knowing their "enemies" as human beings in the United States meets with the realities of their lives back home in the Middle East.  Through the coming-of-age narratives of Adi, Gal, Hanin, Inas, Rawan and Rezan, audiences see how creating relationships across emotional, political, religious and geographic borders are first steps towards resolving conflict. "My So-Called Enemy" presents the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through a human lens, and the possibility and hope that come from listening to each others stories.

A film about building bridges of understanding in our own communities, "My So-Called Enemy" offers audiences profound messages about tolerance, inclusion and respect, conflict prevention and resolution, and the vital role of women in peacemaking.

Recommended for courses in:
Cinema/Film Studies, Communications/Media Studies, Diversity. Ethics, Global Studies, Human Rights, Jewish Studies, Journalism, International Relations, Islamic Studies, Law/Mediation, Leadership, Middle East Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Social Work, Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies.

Reviews

"My So-Called Enemy” is so unique and inspirational that it should be mandatory viewing for all students and young people around the world.

Ayse Heinbecker Former President, Womens World Forum UN, NY

Subtle, not pedantic, "My So-Called Enemy" is a balanced and nuanced approach to understanding conflict. An excellent choice for students of diplomacy and world conflict, and a reminder of the power of youthful idealism to make the world a better place. (Red Star review; recommended grades 7+)

Robin Levin, Fort Washakie School/Community Library, WY - School Library Journal

While the conflict in the region provides a backdrop for "My So-Called Enemy," its primary focus is the re-humanizing power of compassionate listening...  Gossels' film is remarkably non-ideological.  It makes no attempt to offer easy solutions to the seemingly intractable difficulties faced by the subjects of the film.  I believe it has great pedagogical potential across many disciplines... Whether the issue is immigration, economic class, race, religion, etc., the film speaks to the challenges and conflicts our students likely face (or will face) in their lives, while providing space for important dialogue.

Sean Martin, Professor of Philosophy, Santa Rosa Junior College

There is no better way for young adults to come to an understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or any conflict, than to see it through the eyes of someone their own age.   Lisa Gossels' film shows students that they can still listen to and understand other perspectives without surrendering their individuality.  I think every high school and college student should see this enlightening and thought-provoking documentary.

Ken Emery, Social Science Teacher--Global Perspectives and World History; Amnesty International Club Advisor

In "My So-Called Enemy" there are no answers, but by the end, we are far better equipped to ask better questions...  This film is a powerful example of the difference between knowing one’s history—which is important to moving forward—and being confined to and beholden to one’s history—which makes moving forward impossible.  It is true of mind, true of heart, clear-eyed and optimistic.  It’s also great documentary filmmaking.

Alexandra Keller, Director, Film Studies Program, Smith College

An insightful, moving, important film… Extraordinary.

Stewart Nusbaumer, The Huffington Post

The teenage girls who make such compelling protagonists in "My So-Called Enemy"… offer inspiring examples of reconciliation in that embattled region.

Ann Hornaday The Washington Post

Watching this evocative documentary was both a deeply moving, and deeply uncomfortable, experience. I am the same age as the women portrayed in the film… "My So-Called Enemy" forced me, along with these young women, to understand the limits of the narrative I have come of age with, and to honestly confront the face of the other.

Rachel Druck, The Nation

In order to reach peace, there must be some opportunity to break down the symbolic walls standing between the Self and the Other. As Gossels and the six appealingly emotional, sensitive, intelligent and independent women she profiled on film well know, peacemaking is not much of a paradox after all.

Mira Sucharov, Ha’aretz
Director's Commentary: 

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

There’s many things that a person might look like and you’re one hundred percent positive who they are. And when you talk to them, you’re shocked that they’re completely the opposite. Like whoever looks at me, “No way you’re an Arab.” But I go like, “Oh, dude, I am an Arab!” So, don’t concentrate on the first impression. If you think you don’t like the person, approach them to know who they really are.
-Rawan (Palestinian, Muslim)

by Lisa Gossels, Director

When I introduce “My So-Called Enemy” at screenings, I always say that making the film was an eight-year journey of both learning and unlearning for me – and a stripping away of personal narratives that I was raised with.  My hope as a documentarian is that audiences will experience some of that same transformation when they watch the movie.

I live in downtown Manhattan and shortly after 9/11, I remember engaging in some heated political conversations with close friends about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  When I tried to express any nuance in those discussions, I came to understand how wars could be fought on words and how easy it is to reduce conflicts to black and white terms.

At a conference two months earlier, I had the privilege of meeting Melodye Feldman (the Founder of Building Bridges for Peace), and four participants from her just-completed summer program.  After listening to the girls’ dramatic stories about how the program had changed them, I begged Melodye to let me film her program the next year!  I was excited that Building Bridges for Peace empowers teenage girls because, as Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism.”

Melodye explains, “If peace is going to happen in the Middle East, women have to be part of the process.  Women have a different way of communicating.  At Building Bridges we are teaching our girls how to be leaders in communities that don’t give equal voice to women. So the question becomes, ‘How do we empower them to change the world?’”

While the Building Bridges section of the film is essential (and the work the organization does is extraordinary), for me “My So-Called Enemy” is really about what happens to the young women after they leave the program and have to navigate the realities of their lives back home in the Middle East, having become friends with their “enemies.”

I grew up in a progressive, inclusive Jewish household, raised with the activist values of social justice for all and the importance of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.”  Thanks to my upbringing and longstanding Buddhist yoga practice, I worked hard to make a balanced, intimate, character-driven film that would break people’s attachments, assumptions and negative stereotypes about Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians, by putting a human face to the politically and emotionally divisive Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  And, by virtue of this, to all conflicts.

“My So-Called Enemy” is about the transformative power of knowing  ”the other,” or “the enemy,” as a human being and how creating relationships across personal, political and physical borders is a first step towards resolving conflict.  As Rezan, who is Palestinian and Christian, says in the movie:  ”Peace starts with me and the friends around me.”  By watching “My So-Called Enemy,” viewers will experience the possibility and hope that come from listening to each other’s stories.

I made “My So-Called Enemy” because I believe it is important to amplify the voices of young women like Adi, Gal, Hanin, Inas, Rawan and Rezan who “are hoping and working for something better,” as Rawan says at end of the film.  At its core, “My So-Called Enemy” is about building bridges and taking down walls between our “self” and the “other” and the power of women to be change agents.

“My So-Called Enemy” will be challenging for some viewers, and that is partly the point.  If viewers don’t agree with some of the girl’s ideas, I hope they will empathize with their stories.  One of the main messages in “My So-Called Enemy” is that we all are human and have the same basic needs:  food, shelter, security, education, healthcare, dignity, hope and love.  Time and again in screenings, I have seen the power of the women in the film to open hearts and minds and create space for dialogue about not only the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but issues that divide us in our families, schools and communities.

When the Building Bridges participants go home, they often feel isolated in their new understanding.  We see in the film how living with knowledge of “the other” is much harder than living in ignorance.  I made “My So-Called Enemy” because I believe our only hope is in understanding each other.  As Adi, who is Israeli and Jewish, says near the end of the movie, “There’s no excuse not to have dialogue.”

I can’t say that we will see peace in the Middle East or in the world in our lifetimes.  But, as I stand on the shoulders of the courageous and intelligent young women in “My So-Called Enemy,” I owe it to them to remain hopeful.