It begins with a dream about an impossible encounter between Avi Mograbi and his grandfather, Ibrahim, outside their Damascus home in 1920. What language did they speak? Avi’s Arabic is rudimentary, while his grandfather Ibrahim had yet to learn Hebrew. In the dream, Avi’s grandfather informs him that the family has decided to leave Syria for Palestine, Damascus for Tel-Aviv. In the dream, Avi decides to stay. “You go to Palestine,” he tells his grandfather, “I’ll stay here and look after the house.” So as to bring the dream to life, Avi turns to his Arabic teacher, Ali Al-Azhari, offering him a filmic partnership, to make a movie together, “to the last touch,” as Ali puts it.
Ali is a Palestinian from the destroyed village of Saffuriyya, near Nazareth, and a refugee in his own homeland since 1948. Ali has spent most of his adult life living in Tel-Aviv, married to a Jewish woman, with whom he fathered his daughter, Yasmin. The way Ali has conducted his personal life poses a political challenge to one of the main tenets of Israeli, but also Palestinian, society: Separation. Together, Avi and Ali commence with pre-production and start looking for locations that attest to the lost history they share. Super-8 letters from Beirut begin to appear. A mere three-hour drive from Tel-Aviv, for Ali and Avi it is light-years away; an out-of-bounds place they can only dream of. The letters tell the story of love and loss between a man and a woman - Lebanese Jews - torn apart when the borders of the Middle East were redrawn.
"Once I Entered a Garden" fantasizes an “Old” Middle East, wherein communities were not divided along ethnic and religious lines; a Middle East in which even metaphorical borders had no place. In Ali and Avi’s joint-adventure: the journey they take to their own and each other’s communal histories in a time machine born of their friendly encounter, the Middle East of yore - the one in which they could coexist effortlessly - resurfaces with commensurate ease.
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