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About A Slim Peace

VARIETY

May 13th 2007
Tribeca
A Slim Peace
(Docu -- U.K.)
By JAY WEISSBERG
A Discodog Prods. production. (International sales: Film Sales Corp., New York.) Produced by Charles Lambert. Executive producers, Ben Funnell, Andrew Herwitz, Davide Romieri. Co-producer, Yael Luttwak. Directed by Yael Luttwak.

Novice helmer Yael Luttwak uses the universal desire for weight-loss as the perfect excuse to bring Arab and Israeli women together in "A Slim Peace." Clever premise flies, thanks to strong personalities overcoming budgetary limitations and a certain lack of structure, with real progress made until the daily realities of a divided Israel overwhelm the giant steps forward made by women trained to fear the other side. Docu's novelty should earn it a popular place in Jewish fests as well as small-screen broadcast.
Body language says it all at the first meeting of a diet support group composed of highly educated Palestinians, secular and religious Jews, and Bedouins: the discomfort is tangible as women who would never even look at each other are forced to confront their fears of the other. Getting settlers to sit down with Ramallah residents was Luttwak's biggest challenge, but over the course of six sessions, the women not only lose weight but bridge their ingrained mistrust, highlighting just how geopolitics artificially narrows perspectives and sows seeds of hatred. Though the outcome one year later is less than hoped for, the applications are huge.
Camera (color, HD), Yvonne Miklosh; editors, John Mister, Carol Salter; music, Avshalom Caspi; sound, Tomer Blayer; sound design, Peter Hodges. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (World Documentary Competition competing), May 4, 2007. English, Hebrew, Arabic dialogue. Running time: 60 MIN.

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REUTERS REPORT
1min 12secs

Click here to view the Reuters Report

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WASHINGTON POST

April 27th 2007

Amid Turmoil, Mideast Cinema's Subtle Shadings
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007; C01

If "Making Of" displays unabashed artiness, two much more rough-edged documentaries exemplify another part of the cinematic spectrum. Yael Luttwak's "A Slim Peace" is a cinema verite account of a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who find common ground in -- where else -- losing weight. After organizing a group of women interested in losing a few pounds, the filmmaker, the women and two dietitians get together for weigh-ins that inevitably become political consciousness-raising sessions.
Some encounters are predictable (Jewish settlers meeting their first West Bank dwellers), but there are some unexpected twists: a Sephardic Jewish woman reveals that, as an indigenous Arab, she feels much more akin to the Palestinian women than the American settlers. A Bedouin woman breaks out of that tribal stereotype -- of a deeply sexist and insular culture -- and turns out to be the film's most self-empowered feminist.
Inadvertently true to its title, "A Slim Peace" offers a relatively slender sampling of the myriad issues and histories that weave through contemporary politics in Israel. And although it suggests the possibility of communication within that freighted context, it also hits obstacles, such as when one of the Jewish settlers suspects one of her new Palestinian acquaintances of destroying an Israeli playground. Despite the obvious optimism of Luttwak's enterprise, her film ultimately suggests that the hardest habits to break aren't about food, but the psyche.
"A Slim Peace" touches on the migratory nature of identity in Israel; that theme also suffuses the heartbreaking documentary "9 Star Hotel," which provides an intimate look at migrant workers in that country.

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www.salon.com

May 3rd 2007

Taking it off for peace
A new documentary asks whether uniting Israeli and Palestinian women around weight loss is the way to lasting peace in the Middle East.
By Amy Reiter
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Photo: DiscoDog Productions
A scene from "A Slim Peace"
May 3, 2007 |

Question: Can the united struggle of 14 women of widely varying backgrounds to reduce the width of their waists advance peace in the Middle East?
Answer: That's the question filmmaker Yael Luttwak asks in her new movie, "A Slim Peace," which had its world premiere last week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Luttwak -- who is half-Israeli, half-American, and now lives in London -- was working with Palestinians and Jews in Israel, and trying to lose some weight herself, when the peace process broke down in 2000. "Something in my head just connected the two," she says.
To pull together the disparate group of women for her documentary, Luttwak solicited strangers in cafes and surveyed friends and friends of friends, including secular urban Jews, religious Jewish settlers, Bedouin Arabs, Palestinians -- young and not so young, well-off and less so. The women met regularly in Jerusalem, some of them traveling past checkpoints, an hour and a half each way, to bond over their body issues, and maybe -- just maybe -- find common ground.
At first, sitting around a circle with two dieticians -- one Israeli, one Palestinian -- the women are tensely polite to one another. But as the meetings progress, inhibitions are shed along with the weight, paving the way for angry confrontations and, ultimately, a tentative détente.
Luttwak sat down with Salon in New York to discuss her film, her process and her fierce belief that peace in the Middle East is at least as attainable as losing those last five pounds.

 

Question: Did you make this film with a particular goal in mind?

Answer: I was really passionate about making this film. I believe in peace. I care a lot about the Middle East. I care about the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are continuously killing each other, and I'd like that to stop. I wanted to see what would happen if we brought them together over something as universal as weight loss -- because who doesn't care about their weight? Could they come together on something as neutral as that?

Question: Where did you get the idea to marry weight loss and the peace process, two things that one doesn't normally think of as fitting together?

Answer: It came from my own personal life. I have always struggled with my weight. And I've seen a lot of women around me struggle with it. It's not that I'm obese -- though I've never been stick thin -- but I've always felt a little chubby. I've always had my own body issues. I think it's hard to find someone who doesn't.
So when I lived in Israel, and I was working with Israelis and Palestinians, I lost 10 kilos, or 20 pounds. I went to Weight Watchers, and I sat in these meetings and I saw these Middle Eastern women -- and they're so full of life and spice. And it's all so intimate, because weight has so many emotions attached to it. It's so loaded. There's success and there's failure and there's pain. Then at the same time, in 2000, the peace process broke down -- and it's never been repaired since. So something in my head just connected the two.

Question: You assembled the group of women in the film. What sort of characters were you looking for?
Answer: I wanted to bring together women that would never be willing to meet. I didn't want to do a weight-loss group of rich Israelis and rich Palestinians who were already liberal and who were for peace. I wanted to go as far as we could.
It was very important to me that it be a program that the women would benefit from, too. They're opening up their personal lives and sharing of their lives and their bodies and their families. So I got amazing dieticians, luckily: the head of nutrition at Hadassah Hospital, Israel's premier hospital, and a Palestinian dietician, who is amazing in her own right. It's a new approach in that it's not about dieting. Diets don't work, based on research. It's about changing the way you relate to food and changing your lifestyle. We had a lot of weight-loss success stories.
In terms of the peace process, there didn't seem to be that much direct conflict in the group, but there was a sort of pervasive tension.
I think that's a great observation -- and it was my observation as well pretty early on. You may be bringing together women who would never normally meet, but they don't sit in a room and start hitting each other. They were very polite, which is very unusual, because in the Middle East people are not that polite. They're usually known to be maybe a little aggressive, certainly less inhibited, very casual. So everyone was on their best behavior. The tension was much more subtle. As Ichsan, the Palestinian woman, says, "It's like we're on a blind date."
But then, of course, when Hamas was elected, there was an out-and-out argument. Weight loss went to the side and the discussion became about politics. The big thing for me was that the women came back after that meeting. They had this big fight -- a true argument, a screaming match -- but they came back. And that was the testament. But I think that also reflects reality and people. When you have a fight with someone -- whether it's your best friend, your lover, your brother -- you have a fight and it's healthy and you get it out. Then, if you care enough about that person, you come back. And they did.
Next page: "Once you realize they're people, you're people, it's fine"
There's a scene between the spitfire Palestinian woman, Ichsan, who may be the most compelling character in the group, and Dasi, the Israeli yoga teacher whose father-in-law was well known in the Israeli independence movement. They become friends, but when Ichsan goes to visit Dasi at her home in a well-to-do part of Jerusalem, things sort of blow up between them. What happened there?
They asked me to turn off the camera. As a filmmaker I would have wanted to have kept the camera on, but as a human being who follows the rules, I turned it off. Because they really fought. I think you see that it's uncomfortable. And you see Ichsan at the end and she is left alone. So I believe that the audience understands what happened.
Also, we've seen arguments before. So, in some ways, it's banal. What's interesting is these characters and the subtleties, the nuances. This is a case where you have two people who get along really well. As human beings, they have similar senses of humor, similar ways of operating in the world. They're very fun, feisty women. And then it hits them. They completely leave the headlines and see each other as people -- and then they go back to the headlines. They recognize this is too big for us, this gap that we have. And that's what I think you see.
It's a pretty disappointing moment.

 

Question: Did the friendship -- which was really the strongest one between any of the women of different backgrounds -- cool off after that?
Answer: It's not that the friendship cooled off. I think they recognized that, although they got along as people, there were bigger obstacles, bigger than them, bigger than their humor and personalities. That's what I think they recognize at that moment, in that house. And that, I think, is what you feel.
At one point in the film, Aviva, an Israeli woman, says she feels like she has far more in common with the Palestinians in the group than the Jewish settlers, most of whom are American. It suddenly became clear that the group could be divided along all sorts of lines, secular and religious, well off and poor. It wasn't just Jews vs. Arabs.
Life is complicated. We all know it's not black and white, though we always seem to go there. Was I surprised that certain women didn't get along and others did? Yeah. I was surprised about a lot of things. But I'm not surprised about the fact that a secular Israeli gets along better with a Palestinian than she does with an American settler. They have a lot more in common. That's the whole problem, I think. If only Israelis and Palestinians were a little more different. If only they were like Asians and Swedes, I think we would have a lot less problems. It's because, I think, they are originally cousins -- because they talk similarly, they like the same foods, they move similarly, they have very similar mannerisms -- that they have conflict like families have. I was really glad that Aviva expressed that, because that's a voice I don't think we hear very often. I really don't think you hear from the secular Israeli who just wants to live, to do their thing.
The group you pulled together was all women.

 

Question: What do you think the role of women in the peace process is? Are women particularly equipped to forge peace?

Answer: I've given that a lot of thought. The reason why I wanted an all-women group is because, according to research, support groups, weight-loss or otherwise, are slightly more intimate if they're single sex. I wanted to create a group that would become intimate. I needed to raise the stakes.
I chose all women partly because I'm a woman, but I also believe that the reason that there is conflict, that people are aggressive toward each other, is because they're fearful of each other. And why are they fearful? Because they've hurt each other. On a simple level, when someone hits you in the face, you become fearful that they'll hit you again. So you put up a barrier, you put up a wall, you take a gun, you put on a mask, you have soldiers. For some reason, I think women are able to react in a less aggressive way. They'll sit down. They'll eat together. They bear children. It's sort of a simplistic answer, but it's my simplistic answer.
Was there ever a moment that you felt frightened? You went into some areas that someone with your background wouldn't normally journey into. I'm thinking specifically of Ramallah.

 

Question: How did you feel going into those areas?
Answer: Listen, I didn't tell my parents every time I went into Ramallah. I didn't share all the details of all my travels, because I know that people get scared. But it's fear of the unknown. It's fear of just not being in a place where everybody is like you. But once you realize they're people, you're people, it's fine. The first time I went into Ramallah, it was like anything -- the first time you ride a bike, the first time you eat anchovies, you don't know, it's unknown. You don't know what it's going to feel like, you don't know what it's going to taste like. It's the same thing. But you shouldn't let that stop you from exploring the unknown. Your world might become totally different as a result.

Question: Is that a takeaway message from the film?
Answer: I don't want to give a takeaway message. And I'm certainly not interested in manipulating anybody that goes to see the film. But I'm very passionate that we can have peace in the Middle East. I really believe it. It's just our own minds that stop it. I think what it can show is that when you do bring people together, people that for thousands of years have hated each other, within a few hours walls break down. It's possible.

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www.thereeler.com

2nd May 2007

If the idea behind Yael Luttwak’s documentary, A Slim Peace, seems outrageous –- uniting Arab and Jewish in Jerusalem in the common goal of a smaller ass –- the execution is nuanced with wit and passion. Luttwak convinced Israelis, Palestinian, a Bedouin and two settlers (some of the women were religious and some not) to join a sort of weight watchers group, though her disingenuous claim that the group will not be political is immediately questioned by the Bedouin woman, who agrees to it nevertheless. Those there women all live quite close to each other, some of the Jews claim to have never met an Arab, and vice versa. In the run-up to and aftermath of the Palestinian election, which saw Hamas put into power, tensions ranneth over the ostensible chatter about fiber grams and calorie counts. Luttwak’s subjects are staunch women, fascinating subjects all, especially when, after the group disbands, most of them acknowledge that their superficial commonalities will never bridge their deep divides. This is a rare look at how life is lived by the middle class in this region; the native Israeli woman was surprised to find that she had more in common with the Arab from Ramallah than the humorless American Super-Jews from the settlement, and you might be too.

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 www.thehuffingtonpost.com

7th May 2007

Yael Luttwak| BIO

My Road Through Tribeca
Posted May 7, 2007 | 12:25 PM (EST)

Read More: Breaking Politics News, Mike Leigh

My first feature film A Slim Peace premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in the World
Documentary Competition this past week.
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The idea is a bit crazy. To bring together a group of Palestinian, Israeli and American settlers together in a weight loss group. After three years my idea became a finished film. Along with my producer we raised the money to make the film. I asked 100 people for support and 1 person said yes. Almost everything about making A Slim Peace was a challenge. From finding women who would normally never meet to join our group to finding a place where both Palestinians and Israelis would be willing to meet and share their lives and stories. Also, to create a story from these meetings between the women while remaining neutral and objective and to make as good, entertaining and thought-provoking a film as possible!
But the last hurdle is having the chance to share the film once you have made it. Luckily, my mentor and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Leigh believed in me from the very beginning. And Peter Scarlet and his team at the Tribeca Film Festival believed in the film and selected A Slim Peace for the festival.
But the pinnacle so far was to share A Slim Peace with hundreds of New Yorkers this week. The audiences have been amazing and engaged and asked me lots of challenging questions!
Meeting the other filmmakers has been a true privilege as well. It is a lonely profession at times and to be able to share and compare notes of the experience you can learn a lot from a fellow filmmaker.
Of course this is still the beginning. The challenge now is to try secure a distributor to enable an even greater audience to share in the journey that the women undertake.
The real excitement though comes in the chance to invite other women from across the Middle East to participate in the initiative, to use it as a model to get even more people meeting and talking. I plan to head out to Israel again next month, to try facilitate another group and continue the work.
Though for now, it has a been a fantastic couple of weeks here at Tribeca. A festival which makes dreams come true for filmmakers like myself to share our stories with such great audiences, and for that opportunity I am truly grateful.

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Jerusalem Post

Mar. 22, 2007 17:43
Cinefile: Israelis at Tribeca
By HANNAH BROWN

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Ido Haar's 9 Star Hotel, about Palestinian workers
in Israel illegally who work building Modi'in, will be part of the World Documentary Competition. 9 Star was one of two films that split the documentary prize at the Jerusalem International Film Festival in July.
One Israeli film that will have its world premiere at Tribeca is Yael Luttwak's A Slim Peace, which is about a women's weight-loss group in the West Bank that includes both Palestinians and settlers, and seems likely to bring a new perspective to an old issue.

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 www.ontheface.com

Dieting is a political issue
by Lisa Goldman on Wed 25 Apr 2007 04:57 PM IDT | Permanent Link | Cosmos
In the ongoing - and often ham fisted - attempts to humanize the faces behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, documentary director Yael Luttwak has come up with a rather unique idea: take a cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian women, put them on a diet program together, and watch what happens. The film is called A Slim Peace.

You can watch the trailer here - and see how even the simplest questions or ideas are political. When the Bedouin (Israeli) woman is told that the group of dieters will include Jewish settlers and Palestinians, but the film is not political, she immediately points out that it IS political - just by virtue of the participants' identities. When the American-born religious West Bank settler is asked to explain whether she lives in Israel or..?, she answers that the question is too political. When a young woman who is doing her graduate degree in biology in Tel Aviv is asked whether she prefers to be called Arab-Israeli or Palestinian, she shrugs and says she really doesn't care; then she explains how difficult it is for her to find a man, and again she is frustrated by the political reality in which she lives. A Palestinian journalist from Ramallah explains that she often overeats out of frustration when she has to wait for two hours to get through a checkpoint on her way to work - then confesses that the last time she felt good about herself was when she was in love, a long time ago.

This is how the director describes her film:

"In A Slim Peace, 14 women--Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouin Arabs, and American settlers in the West Bank--are brought together with the shared goal of losing weight and find out they have far more in common than they ever would have imagined. A Slim Peace takes a revealing look at the universal struggle for acceptance, understanding and personal transformation in a land of intractable conflict. This is a video diary made by the film's director."

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blog.beliefnet.com

Monday August 6, 2007

"A Slim Peace": According to director Yael Luttwak, the universal language of peace just might be … weight loss. In an experiment to open the way to better communication, Luttwak brings together a group of women--some Israeli, some Palestinian, and some Jewish settlers living in the West Bank--to attend a series of Weight Watchers-style meetings. These women in most cases have never spoken to someone from the opposing side, but eventually they warm up to each other and begin to discuss their fears and concerns.

While the movie is funny--as it shows that the excuses women make for cheating on their diets are the same in every culture--it is also sad because a year after the meetings end, the women did not keep in touch with each other, and their opinions about the future of peace in the Middle East really haven’t changed.

This movie also did a great job of revealing to me just how much I do not know or understand about the complex history of the West Bank, and it was worth seeing the movie for that reason alone.

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Jewish Chronicle (www.thejc.com)

November 01, 2007

The weight-loss plan aimed at peace
By Nick Johnstone

Yael Luttwak’s new film brings together 14 Israeli and Palestinian women to diet. Could their joint quest bridge the cultural divide?

In January 2006, a Palestinian TV producer and comedienne, Ichsan Turkhin, left her home in Ramallah and, with a special permit in hand, crossed the border into Israel.

She then made her way to Jerusalem, where she met the other 13 women who had signed up to appear in Yael Luttwak’s documentary, A Slim Peace .

For the next six weeks, Turkhin, along with other Palestinian women, Israeli women and religious American Jewish settlers, met on camera to participate in a weight-loss group with a difference. Presided over by two dieticians — one Israeli, one Palestinian — the group sought to find out if shedding pounds in search of a new body image could override the intense politics of their individual lives.

“I laughed when Yael first suggested this idea,” says Turkhin. “I felt, it’s a smart idea and it’s childish and innocent. And I laughed a lot. I said: ‘Yael, you think we can all sit together?’ And she said: ‘Yes.’”

After that initial approach, Jerusalem-born, New York-raised Luttwak, 35, told Turkhin that the diverse group would include American settlers.

Turkhin was not impressed. “I said: ‘First, I believe they are thieves who are stealing a land that doesn’t belong to them.’ And then I said: ‘I can’t imagine why they [have come here to] live with a people which hates them! I can’t believe how people come from a good life in the United States, to come and live here in shelters!”

It was a hard sell, but Luttwak eventually persuaded Turkhin and the equally reluctant settlers to give the project a chance. “It’s much easier to consider someone an enemy if you don’t humanise them,” explains Luttwak. “Once you humanise them, then it’s hard to consider them an enemy. But we forget this. And it’s so much easier for the media and politicians to put people into categories. But behind that, we’re people.”

The idea for the film, which is being screened in London this weekend as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival, came to Luttwak in 2000. She was based in Tel Aviv at the time, working on a “teen talk show”, a co-production for Israel’s Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Channel. The show was being shot in Ramallah and Jerusalem, where she befriended Israelis and Palestinians alike.

With the 2000 Camp David summit sparkling on the horizon, genuine hope for peace was in the air. Personally, too, Luttwak was feeling optimistic, shedding pounds as part of a WeightWatchers programme in Tel Aviv. Then, the peace talks broke down. A despondent Luttwak headed back to the US, working as a TV news producer, while developing what would become her directorial debut film, A Slim Peace.

“I’d been hearing those Middle Eastern women at Weight-Watchers in Tel Aviv talk about their successes and failures with losing and gaining a kilo, and I thought that if we could get everyone together and focus on something that is universal, that actually goes quite deep, then maybe we could find a way forward.”

She moved to London and studied directing at the London Film School under playwright and director Mike Leigh. He became her mentor, and when she graduated she worked as a researcher on Leigh’s play, Two Thousand Years.

Then, in mid-2005, with funding in place, she returned to Israel and began casting the 14 women. With an eventually willing cast, and a heap of red tape overcome, Luttwak waited to see how the first meeting, held in January 2006, would go. Like all the women, Turkhin arrived pensive.

“Everyone came with a stereotype,” says Turkhin. “So I wanted to break the stereotype. I am a Palestinian woman, I’m educated, I speak English, I read, I write, I love, I have children. Don’t put me in any one category. I wanted them to see a different, smart Palestinian.”

Over the next six weeks, the women collectively shed 100kg and slowly loosened up. Politics remained to the fore, but they eventually found middle ground, and some are still in touch today. “We’re all much more alike than we are different,” Luttwak concludes.

“As trite as it might sound, at the end of the day, we’re just people. The distances are so small and the borders so flimsy, but Israelis and Palestinians are kept very separate. Interaction is the key to peace and that’s why I was passionate to make this film. What would happen if we bring people together? People who would normally never meet.

“It only takes a few hours for the barriers and stereotypes and categories and vilifications to come down, because people find things that they have in common. It doesn’t mean they fall in love with one another, but they can get along. ”

A Slim Peace is being screened at the Screen On the Hill, London NW3, on Sunday. Tel: 020 7435 3366

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Guardian Unlimited – Film Weekly Podcast

November 09, 2007

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/11/film_weekly_meets_denzel_washi.html

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http://www.haaretz.com

The weigh to peace? 

 

November 09, 2007

Women's desire to be thin is universal. That, at least, is the premise behind "A Slim Peace," a documentary bringing together Palestinian and Israeli women for a six-week weight-loss session of counting calories, measuring their waistlines and reflecting on issues of body image.

The 14 women - Jewish settlers, Bedouin from the Negev, secular Jerusalemites and Muslim women from Ramallah who travel through checkpoints to attend the group - met last year over the course of two months in Jerusalem, a city where everything is political and even losing weight can be cause for conflict.

Together, they commiserated over a love of fatty foods and the difficulties of balancing work and family. But when the group disbanded, more than 120 kilograms lighter, promises to meet again lapsed and were forgotten.

The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was screened this week in Jerusalem, brought many of the women back together - some looking much the same as when they last saw each other. One woman, however, was 50 kilograms lighter.

The unofficial reunion also served as the launch of a new series of Slim Peace groups, set to begin next week also in the capital.

"Even though we were all so different, we had the same issues: we're fat, we work too hard, we're raising kids and we don't pay attention to our bodies," said Aviva Meirom, who lives in Jerusalem and was a member of the group. "We put our families and work first and then ourselves last. That was our common problem."

From the outset, the women invited to participate in the group were told that the weight-loss program would be apolitical. But in a place where everything has political dimensions, weight loss - like other issues in the conflict - quickly became a matter for rivalry.

"I will lose more weight than they will," Ichsan Turkich, a Palestinian producer living in Ramallah, remembers thinking to herself when she heard that settlers would be in the group. "I will make it into a competition and show the occupier that I am more talented than they are. I will show the occupier that I am also a person with dreams and ambitions."

Long struggle

The idea for the joint nutrition and weight-loss project - the first of its kind - was the brainchild Yael Luttwak, an American-Israeli filmmaker based in London who said she had long struggled with her own weight. In 2000, with the intifada raging, she was living in Israel and was part of a Weight Watchers group in Tel Aviv when the idea for the project clicked. She saw women - complete strangers for the most part - share the euphoria of success and the pain and sadness of failure, as they joined weekly to bond over a single goal. "I thought at the time, maybe we can take this emotion and connect it with the peace process," Luttwak, 35, said.

The coexistence genre of documentaries is nothing new. Projects with Palestinians and Israelis together doing everything from sailing and playing soccer to cooking and rapping have been going on for years. But Luttwak says she has attempted something else - and in many ways, she has succeeded.

"I was sick of bringing rich liberal Jews and Arabs just to talk about peace in a very overt way. I wanted to try to go deeper in a seemingly surface way. People say that dieting is superficial, but what you eat, what you put in your kitchen and how you relate to your body is very loaded," she said.

Getting the women to agree was not easy; many of the women approached rejected the idea out of hand. Other took considerable convincing. Amal Elsana-Elhjooj, a Bedouin, thought that sitting with settlers and talking about anything other than the occupation was nearly traitorous; Turkich, the producer from Ramallah, said she initially refused to sit down with women she regards as "thieves, people who take what isn't theirs"; and Letty Zander, a U.S.-born settler who lives in Ma'aleh Hever, south of Hebron, said she who didn't feel comfortable even using the word Palestinian.

"When I think of Ramallah, I think of the soldier who was torn apart with people's bare hands," Zander said. "As far as I know, those are the kinds of people that live in Ramallah."

The weekly sessions were held at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and were conducted in English, considered by all the participants to be a neutral language. Two dieticians - one Israeli and another Palestinian - led the group, teaching healthy lifestyle techniques, portion control and how to read a nutrition label, while urging the women to lead more active lifestyles. The women were regularly weighed and their waists were measured for progress.

But politics, of course, was never far behind. Rivkah Adinah Dror, another participant, lives on the settlement of Bat Ayin, which doesn't even allow Arabs past its gate. And when Turkich dons a pedometer and it accidentally resets, she jokes it's because she's Palestinian. "If an Israeli was wearing it, it would work," she tells the camera.

During one of the first sessions, Turkich, an outspoken widow, meets Dasi Stern, a secular yoga teacher from Jerusalem who joined the group to lose what she describes as a very stubborn two kilos. "Stern? Like the Stern gang?," Turkich asks. "Yes," Dasi replies. "That was my husband's father."

And later, three weeks into the filming, Hamas sweeps the Palestinian elections in a victory that stunned the Israeli women in the group and fuels new level of tension into the group's already charged atmosphere. As one Israeli woman admitted this week, "it was hard to believe that none of the women in the group voted for Hamas."

Divided by politics

For the participants in the group, the societal pressure to stay thin was largely unifying, despite the politics that continues to divide them. Many of the women expressed a desire to "look beautiful" and said that impossible body standards have infused even the most traditional of communities. In some ways, they say, that may have helped them find the much-elusive "common ground" that coexistence groups seem to always seek.

"The pressure to be thin and the culture of dieting is the same in the Muslim community as in the Jewish community," Elsana-Elhjooj, the Bedouin activist, said. "My grandmother was considered a very beautiful woman and she was very heavy. But to be fat then was beautiful and desirable; it showed that you are healthy and not starving. Now, my mother goes walking and does other sports. When I see my sisters, we talk about weight, what to cook, and how to fit into our dresses for our brother's wedding."

When the seminar ended, successfully for some more than others, the women pledged to continue their meetings, even if only sporadically. But the promises lapsed and a different reality set in.

"I will not call Rivkah and say 'How are things in Gush Etzion? Did beat any Arabs today? Did you throw stones at Arabs?,'" Turkich said. "I will not visit her because they will kick my ass if they do not shoot me first. We had a lot in common, but in the long run, she cannot be my friend. But I will still be happy for her if she loses weight."

Additional Slim Peace groups, sponsored by the U.K.-based Charities Advisory Trust, are now forming and will be held at the Anglican International School in Jerusalem.