Bianca Seta

Power of music: Can it bridge the gaps?

Prophets of Change, a new documentary examines the power of music and asks — can it bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians? David Sarfati, the film’s producer, sure hopes so.

Prophets of Change is a documentary film that explores the power of music to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians. The film follows the stories of musicians and activists who use their art to challenge the status quo and inspire change in their communities. Amongst them, Mira Awad, Yael Deckelbaum, Rapper Saz, Rock band Orphanland, music collective System Ali and more. They sing, rap, play and dance to express their hopes, fears, frustrations, and dreams, to create a space for dialogue and understanding. The film features a diverse and dynamic soundtrack of modern Middle Eastern music, ranging from hip hop to rock to folk, as well as an all-star cast of narrators, including J.K. Simmons, Forest Whitaker, Sarah Silverman and more, who lend their voices to the film’s message of peace and coexistence.

One of the producers behind this ambitious and hopeful project is David Sarfati, a seasoned film producer and a passionate advocate for peace. In this interview, I caught up with him to talk about the making of the film, Prophets of Change, the challenges and opportunities he faced, and his hope for the future of the region amid the ongoing Hamas-Israel war.

David, what inspired the documentary about Israeli and Palestinian musicians who use their art as a form of activism and dialogue?

I was inspired to work on this film because I wanted to see something we don’t see enough of on our screens – acts of love, respect and voices that are working to better the world. This film embodies that, it reflects artists seeing each other, working together, collaborating, and create art out of pain and love for their communities. Shining a light on them felt natural.

The film has an impressive list of narrators, including J.K. Simmons, Forest Whitaker, Sarah Silverman, and Billy Zane. How did you approach them and what was their reaction to the project?

I think what happened there is that all the musical acts in the film, from Saz and Sun Tailor to Mira Awad and Yael Dekelbaum are so passionate about what they do and that passion is contagious. They truly believe in their cause and honestly, that’s all it took to help convince these A-listers to lend their voices. We were dreaming big and hoped we could get them to lend their voices to reinforce, and again, shine a light on these voices that are working tirelessly to change their own communities. They were all very gracious about it, they understood the film’s mission and why these are stories worth telling. I am very grateful for that.

The film explores the power of music as a universal language that can transcend borders and walls. How do you think music can foster empathy and understanding among people from different backgrounds and cultures?

We named the movie “One Language” in Hebrew, and I think that was our philosophy making this movie. I think what a lot of Israelis don’t often think about is how much of their own ancestry has influenced the music they listened to or that their parents listened to; Whether they’re Israeli from Moroccan descent or Iraqi descent – they have so much in common with other young Arabs and Palestinians, and so what we see in the movie is how so many different types of people come together. Whether to organize a party of IsraeliArab music, or to makeheavy metal songs in Hebrew and finding an audience in the Arab world and discovering that all these influences bring us closer and make the world smaller.

How does everything going on in the region right now effect your views and the film?

I am an optimist. I always have been. I wouldn’t have made this film if I wasn’t. Everything going on right now is scary and seems quite hopeless. The social-media vitriol made me think and rethink my beliefs, and learn and understand everything that is going on, because it’s a lot. Simultaneously, I feel like it is absolutely imperative to unequivocally condemn terrorism and protect innocents everywhere who want to live in peace.

How did you balance the artistic and ethical aspects of the film, such as the choice of music, the editing style, and the representation of the different perspectives and realities of the musicians?

I think we let the music lead. Yael Deckelbaum’s soulful music brings me to tears every time I hear it. Mira Awad’s deep-rooted connection between her family and her home and her art makes my heart skip a beat.

We don’t often see movies – especially not about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict that are centered around art, movies like these are usually about the conflict and war, and all the bad things that happen. We made a conscious effort to show the complexity of their lives, how it’s not all roses and rainbows, but how through music they inspire and get inspired. I personally strive to show how much joy there is in the world, and how much people are trying to make a difference. We also wanted to create a call of action of sort, to show audiences that change is already happening, but you must pay attention to it. There are good people that are trying to do good, that want a better future for their children and for themselves.

Yael Deckelbaum (Prophets of Change, still from the film)

The film premiered in some festivals over the past year, how was the reception of it?

It was really great. After about five years of work on the film it was amazing to get to share the movie with people and see how they react. To learn what they took for it, learned, what triggered the most emotions, and what sparked conversations with friends and loved ones afterwards. I think when it comes to Israel there’s so many conflicting narratives, different ideas, and opinions. It’s such a heated topic and through the movie I think we were able to create a space where conversations were balanced, deliberate. Conversations that had the ability to be a little more specific and about people, not about these huge conflicts that we might not be able to solve. Hopefully through their stories, people gained a new perspective.

About the Author
Coming from an Argentinian background, Bianca was born and raised in Los Angeles, speaks four languages, loves to meet new people and socialize, is passionate about her Jewish identity and absolutely loves Israel.
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