Queer filmmaker Jen Heck on forming a cross-cultural music group in “The Promised Band”


AE: I want to talk about the risk factor now. By repeatedly going into Area A with your Israeli friends, you were all risking arrest. And there could have been problems for Lina as well. Even the idea of the band itself could have been dismantled as a farce if anyone had asked you to play. So why did you still risk it?

JH: It wasn’t really my decision, first of all. I was facilitating it, but at no time was I necessarily in control of what we did. When we were in the West Bank, Lina was usually determining where we could go and how far we could go from her house and stuff like that. And everybody trusted her. And when we were in Tel Aviv, the Israelis were in control. When we were in Tel Aviv, Lina had a permit, so it was a little bit different in terms of getting stuck at a checkpoint or anything like that. But I think the reason why people just moved forward with what we were doing is because they started to see that what was happening was important.

There was that constant awareness: how are we looking in our surroundings? Are we making ourselves vulnerable? Are we making Lina vulnerable when we leave? And honestly, the band, and the cover story of the band, more than getting through checkpoints or being disarming in that way, it was more about people watching us get out of our car and go into Lina’s house and having all of her neighbors watch and we had these props that sort of had their own message–a non-threatening message–by virtue of what they were. And they’re very visible, so I hope that sort of curtailed some of that.


AE: Lina, there’s a scene in the film where someone asks you a question I’d been wondering and your answer is very interesting. I’m going to ask it again in case it’s changed. Didn’t you find it a bit naïve of this American to come in and think she could bring together these different people–history, religion, permits, etc. be damned?

LQ: No, I didn’t find it naïve. Naïve is not the word, actually. I think I felt that she wanted to do something good. She wanted to bring people together, and she wanted to bring women together. She wanted to bring us together, the Palestinians and the Israelis. And even if it’s a small circle, at least she felt that she wanted to do that.

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AE: Some of your band members left or didn’t join at all, most of you never really mastered your instruments, and you’re still in the situation where you have limited opportunities to visit each other. That all said, do you still feel like you accomplished something?

JH: These small relationships are something. Telling our story honestly I think has affected audiences. This is bringing them into the conflict in a way that they haven’t seen before.

I’m trying to make a film where people aren’t automatically defensive because I think that’s what happens a lot. There’s an obvious sort of agenda being pushed, or a side being taken, and, again, everybody in the movie obviously has opinions about where they stand on the conflict or the politics of the conflict, but it’s not so much about pushing that. It’s about genuinely trying to understand. 


AE: Has this caused any problems for you, Lina, now that the movie is being screened? Have you had any feedback back home?

LQ: Not yet. Not yet. But you know what? I’m not really ashamed of what I did. I’m so proud of this movie.


AE: Finally, what are your hopes for this film?

JH: The thing that I hope more than anything, maybe this makes me a bad marketing person or whatever, but I love seeing Lina see the audience reaction and seeing how much her sharing her story affected people. People in the audience cried. People gave her standing ovations. It gives so much meaning to the experience for her and for the other cast members as well when they get an opportunity to see it with an audience. Because people really were so generous with who they are, who they were at the time, with going on this discovery together. Like why? Why did they trust me with this? Because they wanted to make music? No. Because they wanted to figure out if there’s a better way.

They’re still vulnerable to this day as the movie comes out in Israel or in Palestine. They will be vulnerable, they will be targeted possibly, but there’s a reason, and there’s a message that got out there. And it’s really amazing to see audiences connect to it.


The Promised Band is screening at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose on March 12 and will screen for Hands of Peace in Chicago on April 6. Visit the movie’s website to find out when it’ll be screening near you.


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