About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
March 2004
James' Journey to Jerusalem: An Interview with Raí anan Alexandrowicz & Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe

James' Journey to Jerusalem: An Interview with Ra' anan Alexandrowicz & Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe

Coming out on March 5th is James' Journey to Jerusalem. Director Ra' anan Alexandrowicz & lead actor Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe spoke to blackfilm.com about traveling to Israel to film key scenes.

WM: How did this film come about?

RA: With this film, there was a very specific moment which inspired the writing of it. I was acquainted with a man who lived in Israel. He was from Nigeria. His name was James, and he's very different from the James in the film. In Nigeria, he was a banker, but he was living in Israel on a expired tourist visa and working mostly cleaning houses, living a tough life as an economical immigrant, a migrant worker. One day James told me how he imagined the Holy Land, and how he imagined Israel back when he was in Nigeria before he came and he imagined it as it was in the Bible and ask him if he has seen Israel in the news in Nigeria and how he could have imagined it like the Biblical Israel. Well, he said that the belief was stronger than what I saw. In that moment, I felt very strong the gap between that fantasy, the dream we have of the Holy Land and the practical existent of Israel. And so I decided to write a film that begins in this gap, somewhere arriving with this dream and crashing into the economical social reality of Israel today and from there begins his journey. This was the beginning and then I began in the direction of writing an economic fable. A contemporary economic fable.

WM: Siyabonga, how did this film work out for you since most of your films are done in South Africa? How did you get the part?

SMS: Well, actually the auditions for James' Journey to Jerusalem were held in South Africa, and fortunate enough I was able to get the part of James. Ra' anan came over to South Africa when there were just two of left for the part, and after that he cast me. The only location that was to shot was in Israel so they had to take me from South Africa to Israel to shoot the scenes.

WM: This story has a lot of universal themes because in a lot of different countries, people look for another country believing it's the Holy Land, but at the same time, they are looking for financial gains, a better life, and so forth. When you wrote this film, were you looking to add to a universal story so that many people can relate to it?

RA: We always start off by addressing our home audience. When you stick around some basic truths then it will transmit to other audience and I think this film is really exactly like you describe it. It's a film about what happens to our dreams in life when we go about trying to make them come true on Earth whether its personal dreams or our dreams in society. For instance, New York is the promise land for so many people coming from all over the world to fulfill in this dream and then something else happens and again you get caught up in your own destiny and you keep on speaking about your dream but now you're caught up in making practical things come true.

WM: Siyabonga, how much research did you do for your part? Did you meet people who have been in this position of working hard labor to survive?

SMS: In South Africa, there are also similar situations. I don't like to call them that, but we have foreign workers from the other side of Africa who come to work in South Africa. They experienced very similar problems, so when I was there, I had to speak to them and had to ask very certain questions. I had to really know their lives of living so I can relate to the character. And coming back to the religious part, I grew up as a Christian, so more or less I know the other beliefs and the values we have in recognizing Jerusalem being this Holy City or this Holy Land. I had it in my background and I had to do research by asking the foreign workers their experiences back at home so I can relate to James' Journey to Jerusalem.

WM: Within the film, the word "Frail" is often used. What does that mean?

RA: The film is actually a black comedy and we play around a lot with around slang, the Israeli slang. Frial is a Yiddish word that we incorporated into Hebrew. In English, you would translate it to be like a pushover or a sucker or some other expressions. James arrives at the pilgrim and becomes a laborer and he gets into a strong relationship with the father of his boss. And the son sort of adopts James as his son and teaches him how to survive and beat the system, so the main thing he tries to teach is how not to be a "Frial", not to let people push you over and not to let people take advantage of you. I think this a basic element of not only Israeli culture but all of western economy. Western cultures were based on getting what you can get and not letting someone get it and take advantage of you. So we play around with this expression in the film.

WM: What do you people to get out from this film?

RA: Sometimes it's difficult to give the film a one line message, so I'll try to tell a story that approaches it in an indirect way. James has to get to Jerusalem and the audience has to see the film to see if he gets there or not. After the film was shown in Jerusalem, a colleague of mine, a director as well, called me and told me, "My wife and I enjoyed the film very much and we realized that there's a man from Nigeria who's working in our house cleaning it once or twice a week. We realized from him that he's been living in Tel Aviv for five years and has never gone our. So that weekend, we took him and friend to a trip to Jerusalem. It was a great experience for all of us." So perhaps this is something that someone got out of the film, and got out of it, so maybe it better for me to tell this than to say that there's a certain message. The film puts a mirror in front of society. In a comic way, what are the values that are leading us today in life? What's less or more important in our life, and how can we be deviated from our course.

WM: What are either of you working on next?

SMS: I'm currently working on a drama in South Africa, though I would love to work on another an international film. It could in the United States or wherever. I'm just keeping faith and the hope high so that I find different roles anyway I could.

RA: I'm in the process of writing two scripts and I haven't decided on which is the one I will turn into the next crusade. In Israel, it's not so easy to make films and you have to really be convince that this is the thing you want to have sacrifice.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy