Out Israeli filmmaker talks new doc at William Way

Out Israeli television personality Assi Azar was on hand in Philadelphia Nov. 20 to host a screening and discussion of his film, “Mom And Dad, I Have Something To Tell You,” a documentary about coming out to his family in Israel.

Azar, 32, is the host of the Israeli version of “Big Brother” and has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ youth in Israel. He talked to PGN while he was in town about the making of his documentary and the effect it’s had on audiences so far.

PGN: The coming-out experience is often very personal: Why was this something you felt should be captured and shared on film?

AA: Actually, my coming-out process is not the idea of the movie. I came out when I was 24 and the movie was shot when I was 29. It’s actually the process of my parents and what they went through when they heard that I’m gay. I decided to do it after the tragic event in Tel Aviv in 2009, when a masked man entered a gay youth center and started shooting. He killed kids and injured 15 and they were between 13-18. After that, parents found out on the news that their kids were gay, so some of them didn’t come and visit them in the hospital. And I found it crazy parents wouldn’t see their son after being injured in such an event. I wanted to make a movie talking about that, how parents react when a son comes out.

PGN: When you were filming this, what was the most poignant interview or moment for you personally?

AA: There were three of those. One interview with a boy in the gay youth center during shooting, his father — one of the fathers who didn’t come visit — told him he wished he was dead. He told me he’s still waiting for his father to call. He didn’t go back home. He was adopted by family who took him in because his father wouldn’t allow him to come home. That was emotional for me. The second was with a religious woman. After she found out her son was gay, she decided she doesn’t care if he’s gay or straight: He can be whatever as long as he’s happy. She’s doing something controversial in her society and community by accepting him without questioning if she should or should not. I love her. She’s amazing. The third was my parents. When I spoke with my dad, I asked him how it was for him when I came out and he said today he loves me more and that now that I’ve opened up to him he feels like we’re closer. So that was new to hear.

PGN: How has the reception to your documentary differed between Israel and the United States?

AA: In Israel, the most shocking thing to me was getting emails and Facebook messages from people who wanted me to send them a DVD of the film so they could take it to their parents who don’t accept their kids. It became a First Aid movie for parents who need to see other people who have the same stories. Just a few weeks ago, I was walking down the street and saw two women and one ran up to me and said, “Listen, my friend doesn’t know her son is gay. I don’t know what to do. Help me.” I gave her a DVD of the movie. It makes me happy that the movie can help others in that way. In the States, it’s really surprising to me the response from viewers here. [The film was screened] a week ago in a Catholic school in San Francisco and I was shocked that Catholic and conservative people would come see an Israeli movie about being gay. But a teacher said this school is about teaching girls to accept people who are different than you and how to understand it’s OK to be whatever you want to be.

PGN: Some television personalities in the United States may be hesitant to come out because of possible criticism. In terms of your own career, do you feel like being open about your sexuality has hindered you at all?

AA: I have to say from the moment I came out of closet, my career started to blossom. When I was in the closet, I was hosting a kids’ show with four other hosts and one of them was one of the hottest guys, two models and one was a great singer. I came out of closet and became the gay host. I noticed that things really improved and it made me be a better host. I used to do interviews a lot and how can I interview someone and expect honest answers if I’m not honest. And also, now I’m hosting the Israeli “Big Brother.” I think I got the job not because I’m gay; I got it because I’m doing a good job. At the end of the day, your career doesn’t choose you because of your sexual preference. It chooses you if you’re good. So, to American celebrities in the closet or getting married and having kids, please stop it. Be who you are: Live life how want to live it.