The Sermon

Golan Heights, Israel
January 29, 2000

We arrive in Tel Aviv in the midst of a rainstorm. The dark and gloominess is not helping my depressed mood as Tammy had given me the “Dear Kwoi” just before I left Toronto. We make it to Haifa in an hour and a half through the downpour and Israeli kamikaze traffic. But Cheuk seems to know where we’re going as he finds Yan Yan on Ha’meginim Street with ease. I’m still in a jet lag state from the long haul waking up to what strangely reminds me of Singapore, Indonesia or some other British colonial in Southeast Asia.

The rain has stopped, leaving the cobblestone streets glistening with neon reflections. The streets are empty but it’s only 8 pm. Yan Yan is in the older section of Haifa. Not quite the wrong side of the track, but it has the seedy reminders of Bar Sur from Wong Kar-Wai’s “Happy Together” or Wanchai of the 50’s from “The World Of Susie Wong”.

Kwoi at Acca Courtyard
Kwoi at Acca Courtyard

First day shoot is not really a shoot but more like an affirmation that we’re here. We grab ambience in and around the port of Haifa. It’s a little feeble… with few motivations and little apparent action. Don’t know if it’s got anything to do with the religious subtext of this particular story or just being here in the Holy Land, but thank God we’re all self-assured and intuitive enough to believe something amazing will eventually evolve. I’m confident that we have an amazing story here.

We are driving to the Golan Heights this morning with Kien. On the way, he tries again to convert us…well… he’s working more on Cheuk… I guess I seem to be a lost cause. I’m not sure where we’re going or what I’m shooting today… just playing it by ear… not looking for inspiration… just trying to respond to ideas.

The car stops in a small Arab town somewhere near Meiron. Kien hasn’t told me anything but Cheuk motions me to follow him with the camera. As we walk along this derelict road, Kien is joined by young Chinese migrant workers coming out of the bushes like a flock following Jesus into a vast expanse of setting light. It’s loneliness… departure… loss incarnate. At last I’ve hit upon some visual theme to build on, a direction to explore the “character” of this place. The group gets bigger and bigger as I’m led to this abandoned half-constructed house down the hill. There we meet more workers who seem to be squatting in the construction site.

The skeletal building has no doors, windows nor furniture and only one tap for cold water. I later learn that the crooked foreman is ripping them off by deducting rent from their already measly paychecks for these unfit accommodations. I’m having a great time turning the camera on and off at will with random spontaneity skipping through time disregarding any continuity of space like memories or stream of consciousness as I film Kien’s sermon. As Kien leads his flock along a heartfelt rendition of “China Heart”, I’m moved by the conviction of this “frontier Jesus” but sadden by these mirror predicaments of early indentured slaves like those of my Great Grandfather’s generation.