"Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land," the lively new documentary from adult film guru Michael Lucas and Tel Aviv filmmaker Yariv Mozer, opens with a cameraman asking random people in New York City's Times Square about Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East and the land considered to be the birthplace of three religions. Specifically, they are asked if homosexuality is legal in that country. The majority of people on the street just don't know the answer. We learn shortly afterward from the filmmakers that Israel was, in 1988, the first Middle Eastern country—actually, the first country in all of Asia—officially to decriminalize homosexuality. For those not familiar with Israel's liberal attitudes towards GLBTs, the facts are pretty amazing—and the viewer learns those facts in colorful detail throughout the course of the film, all the time while enjoying a tour of some of the country's hotspots. We learn that being openly gay in the Israeli military has been a "non-issue" since 1993 as, in fact, all Israeli citizens have mandatory military service. Married same-sex couples are recognized by the Israeli government. In Tel Aviv, the GLBT Center is funded by the State, and the city officially sponsors the annual, ever-growing Gay Pride Parade. The enlightened attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the Jewish State, in fact, are pretty astonishing when viewed alongside the more repressive attitudes that many GLBT people still face in the United States.
photo courtesy of Michael Lucas
|"Undressing Israel" poster
As one of the adult film industry's most successful entrepreneurs of male erotica, Michael Lucas knows a thing or two about making men look good on camera—and as a result, the film is very, shall we say, "easy on the eyes." But just as pleasing as the many handsome guys we see in "Undressing Israel" is the eye-popping natural beauty of the Mediterranean country itself. Focusing largely on the gay-friendly city of Tel Aviv, "Undressing Israel" is part travelogue, part educational film, and part love letter from Lucas to the country for which he clearly has an affinity. Indeed, Lucas definitely seems to be having fun in the film. In the documentary, we meet a wide variety of movers and shakers in Israeli society and, among them, are a buff personal trainer who served openly in the Army; a pair of gay dads; a Muslim man from Jaffa, Tel Aviv's Arab section, who came out at age 15; and an Israeli film director who speaks about the explosion of gay characters in Israeli movie and television today. The movie also takes us beyond the velvet rope for a peak at Tel Aviv's wild nightlife, where one subject opines that Israelis "party hard" to deal with the pressure of daily life in their country. We get to go inside a session of the Israeli House of Parliament during Gay Pride Month, where Lucas actually interviews Nitzan Horowitz, an openly gay Member of Parliament. And, most provocatively, the viewer gets to see a same-sex wedding up close and personal, featuring two very handsome grooms. I dare any viewer not to be moved by these nuptials!
Michael Lucas and I met up in New York City to speak about "Undressing Israel," what he loves about the Promised Land, and the bold project he has coming up next.
New York Q News: Hi Michael. Thanks for meeting with me. I've not been to Israel yet, but I can imagine that seeing the film will make many people think about Israel as their next vacation spot ... and run out to get a plane ticket to the Holy Land.
Michael Lucas: They already do! They already do, because of this movie.
NYQN: That's good to hear. One of the first things I noticed is how well the movie is lit and filmed.
ML: Everything I do is always on a very professional and high quality level. I don't do cheap student-like projects. Whether it is a first time project or it is something I have been doing for a long time, I don't do anything half-assed. I do it very well. I believe that people should do things very well ... or, go home and do something else.
NYQN: Many people don't like documentaries, because so many of them are just a sequence of "talking heads," or the film may be made cheaply, or may not be very well photographed.
ML: You cannot have a documentary with just talking heads. It's boring, even if the talking heads are exciting. You have to have photographs, and you have to have visuals that the talking heads are talking about.
NYQN: Well, it helps that "Undressing Israel" has such good-looking talking heads!
ML: You know, you can't get really away from that when you are in Israel. They are just very hot guys.
NYQN: I noticed!
ML: I chose guys who spoke English well, and who had something interesting to say. It was not a beauty contest at all. It's a serious documentary.
NYQN: Is this your first documentary?
ML: Yes. I just filmed a second one about the Russian gay community in the light of the anti-gay laws, and it’s called "The Campaign of Evil: Russia and Gay Propaganda." I just completed the documentary. It will be out very shortly and they [Breaking Glass Pictures] will be distributing it.
NYQN: I know that the issue of gays in Russia is a passionate one for you. When we had spoken before, you had told me that, as someone who came from Russia, it was very perplexing for you when you first arrived here. You saw that in the United States there are no laws against being gay, yet there are still so many people in the closet and who choose to look at themselves as victims.
ML: Yes. It's ridiculous.
NYQN: But back to this film. What inspired you to make "Undressing Israel?"
ML: I travel to Israel a lot—at least once a year, sometimes twice. I think I might retire in Israel some day at some point. Life there is so good. It is so relaxing for me. Whenever I am there, I am very much at peace. When I go to Israel, people ask me if I am not afraid, and people ask me “Why?,” and people have perceptions that homosexuality is illegal there. That's why I open my movie the way I did. I show that there is very little knowledge about Israel, because there is only one aspect that is covered: the war, and the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. In Israel, they live life without conflict. There have been no suicide bombings since 2004 or 2005, I believe. People go on with their everyday life. As you will see in the movie, it is ahead of the United States because the gay community in Israel is so active, and Israel is more liberal. There is not one TV show that wouldn't have gay characters. That would be seen as discriminatory. So, Israeli public education is very pro-gay ... and, particularly when we are talking about Tel Aviv, it is not even a question. Gay Pride is covered by the city. In Tel Aviv, they have the Gay Pride flags all over, in every place and every corner. There are five ... no, seven gay prides in different cities ... and Israel is a very small country. It is the size of New Jersey. It impressed me, and I just showed what I know because I want other people to know ... and I want people to have as a good a time as I have. In my opinion, Israel is the best vacation spot because it has everything—from beautiful men, to amazing history, to amazing museums, to entertainment, to nightlife, to beautiful beaches, to fantastic restaurants with food from all over the world. It is very open-minded, and everyone speaks English. This is a combination that you can't find, usually, when you go on vacations. It is incredibly attractive for gay people. In the news, you only hear about politics. Politics are an important issue, but when you go to Israel for a visit, you don't feel it.
NYQN: You certainly seem to be enjoying yourself while making the movie. Did you learn anything new during your time there while filming?
ML: No, because I have been there so many times. I think I know everything about the country!
NYQN: (laughter) Now one of the subjects whom you interview is a Muslim man who lives in Jaffa, the Arab section of Tel Aviv. He speaks about what a difficult time he had coming out with his conservative family.
ML: Yes. What a contrast. And he's the lucky one. There are so many Muslims, but people don't understand how difficult it is to make them speak into the camera. They will talk to you, but only confidentially. He is the only one I found, and he is from a more liberal family. That's why he did it. Although he was from his liberal family, you could hear his fears about growing up and that they'd throw him into the well. There is not one Muslim country that is anywhere close to Israel or to the Western world. Compare Israel to the West, and Israel will win in most cases. But you cannot compare Muslim countries either to the Western world or to Israel. You can compare between Muslim countries. In Turkey, gays have more rights than, let's say, in Saudi Arabia, because in Saudi Arabia, it's a death sentence. In Turkey—on paper—homosexuality is not illegal. There are only two countries in the Muslim world where homosexuality is not illegal: Turkey and Jordan. In both countries, particularly in Jordan, if you walk in the street hand in hand, you will be beaten up badly. The Turkish government is trying to be integrated into the European Union, but they know that, without giving homosexuals some freedoms, they will not be able to join the Union. So, that's why they adopted this law ... but society is opposing it. There's not one openly gay celebrity in any Islamic country. Not one.
NYQN: One of the criticisms that some may have of "Undressing Israel" is that all the Jewish men interviewed and offering sound bites in the film tend to be liberal, probably better educated, and likely living in the big cities. Yet we know that there is also a religious right in Israel, too, who may not be so liberal minded, like the Haredi or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews.
ML: Every country has a religious right. In Israel, with those particular people, all they want is to be left alone. They want to live in their religious community and they don't want to be distracted or disturbed from their prayers. They don't care as long as it's not in their faith and in their community. They are very modest, very poor people ... and they have a ton of children! There are a lot of people in Israel who are religious, but who overwhelmingly approve gay life and have no problem with gay people. It's not an issue.
NYQN: If you wanted to speak to members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community for the film, do you think they'd participate?
ML: I don't think they'd participate ... because they are too busy praying (laughter). They don't know much about it, and don't want to talk about it. It's a very closed community. They won't even speak Hebrew to you. They will only speak Yiddish. It's a very small minority.
NYQN: Gotcha! So, lastly, why should people see "Undressing Israel," either in theaters or on DVD?
ML: It's about the knowledge. If you want to know about the country that is so controversial, yet so unknown at the same, then see this movie. If you want to choose your next vacation spot, then it's a great movie to watch before going to Israel. I presented this movie in many different festivals all over the world, and after the movie, during the question and answer, I ask people, "Have you been to Israel before?" Ninety-nine percent will say no. Then I ask "Who wanted to go to Israel before?" Very few people would raise their hands. Then, I ask, "Who wants to go now?" and then, a forest of hands will come up.
NYQN: Very cool! Thanks for speaking with me!
"Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land" is now available on DVD. Visit www.BreakingGlassPictures.com for more info.