I have to be honest. Working on Hurdle for the last few years, I’ve had these delusions of grandeur where I thought I would get the most joy by putting this powerfully inspiring story in front of as many people as possible. I naively thought, “I can’t wait to get this film in front of the masses!” But after a recent trip to Israel/Palestine, I humbly learned I was wrong.
Michael and I landed on a Monday. We hit the streets immediately and found ourselves in the Old City of Jerusalem on the steps of Damascus Gate—where many of the scenes of Hurdle take place. Here we shared laughs and sweet mint teas with old and new Palestinian friends as Israeli Border Patrol soldiers casually patrolled with their automatic weapons hanging haphazardly off of their shoulders. We talked with a new friend, Mahmoud—a young twenty-something Palestinian who currently lives and volunteers in France—about his work with media and understanding and challenging stereotypes. We also reconnected with Sami—the leader of the Jerusalem Parkour team and one of Hurdle’s protagonists—and chatted with him about his first term in University.
One evening later in the week, we reconnected with Jehad—the sweet big-energy member of the Jerusalem Parkour Team—as he led us to the rooftops of the Old City. As the sun was setting behind the golden glow of the Dome of the Rock, Jehad performed a somersault or three as he jumped from one roof ledge to another. It was a jaw-dropping sight to see how far he was jumping and how potentially dangerous these acts of urban gymnastics really were. But for Jehad, as he flipped, jumped and told us old parkour stories, you could see in his eyes and smiles that it was in these moments where he truly felt free.
One afternoon Michael and myself made our way through the Muslim quarter of the Old City where we climbed up the steps to the rec center where the Jerusalem Parkour team hosts their weekly practices. After a few kind introductions, we respectfully parked ourselves in the back corner of the wide room as we watched ten or so boys happily but studiously stretch and practice. Hamzeh—one of the the Jerusalem Parkour Team who is often seen in Hurdle—was coaching. This was a sight to see, because not only did Hamzeh lead and teach with a comfortable confidence, but as you’ll see in the film, he was just an average adolescent two years ago when we began filming with the team. Now, here was this handsome young man who (if a continent or two away) would be vying for homecoming king or for a starting spot on his college football team. Instead, here he was graciously giving his time to teach young boys how to see obstacles as opportunities. And not to mention how to land a flying frontflip.
On my last day of the trip, we made our way to the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem where the other Hurdle protagonist, Mohammad, lives and works. We met him along with Sami and Hamzeh from the parkour team to show them all the film. This was the anxiety riddled climax of the trip. This was their story. This was their lives that we had spent the last two years capturing and capsuling into an eighty-four minute documentary film. Even in the room where we were screening the film, just outside teargas is launched and rubber bullets fly freely as clashes between IDF soldiers and Aida refugees happen regularly. The stakes were incredibly high. What if we got it wrong? What if they were disappointed in the film?
And this is where I humbly got my wake up call. Because in the end they weren’t disappointed. Moreover, they were incredibly thrilled and grateful. Not just because the parkour montages look really cool, but because they finally felt that their stories, their lives were getting the honest portrayal that they deserved. They weren’t being splayed all over the news as terrorists. They weren’t being attacked as ignorant rock throwing Palestinian children. Rather, their stories were getting the context they feel they deserved and a spotlight was being shown on the inspiring work they are all doing each and every day amidst this polarizing conflict.
The work on Hurdle is far from over. It may even be just starting as we go into the festival season and onwards. I know there will be more moments of incredible joy and pride as the work continues. But I also know that we’ve been incredibly lucky to be allowed into these young men’s lives. Seeing them watch their stories come to life on the big screen is an invaluable experience I’m humbled to be a part of. It’s an experience I will never forget. - Remoy Philip, Producer