Synopsis for Paper Dolls

The Film

"Paper Dolls" is a documentary film which explores changing patterns of global immigration and expanding notions of family through the prism of a community of Filipino transvestites who live illegally in Israel. Cast out by their families because of their sexual and gender preferences, these people work 6 days a week as live-in, 24 hour a day care givers (and in many cases as surrogate children) for elderly orthodox Jewish men, in order to earn money to send to their families in the Philippines that had rejected them. On their one free night per week, they pursue their own personal dreams as drag performers in the group they call "The Paper Dolls" in the relative freedom of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Despite having to deal with often harsh working conditions, threats by street criminals, fear of terrorist bombings and the constant peril of deportation, The Paper Dolls demonstrate a rare generosity of spirit, humanity and lust for life.

Award winning filmmaker Tomer Heymann enters this unusual world and by coming to know and love these subjects unearths joy, sorrow and humanity which change his life forever.

The Series

In a small apartment in southern Tel Aviv, a group of Gay Filipino migrant workers meet every weekend. Throughout the week they work as caregivers of elderly Orthodox Jews in the Tel Aviv suburb and on weekends they performed before an audience of Filipinos migrant workers across Israel on their drag-queen show, called “The Paper Dolls In spite of the chaotic Israeli reality, where fear of terrorist suicide bombers competes with the fear of the "Immigration Police", the group members succeed in expressing their true selves. They see Israel as an open and free place, where they can enjoy sexual and cultural liberty


Episode 1

In the first episode we meet Chicki, the leader of the group; Jan and his amazing voice; and the beautiful Neice; all out of the closet homosexuals that take care of elderly orthodox men in the religious town of Bnei-Brak. Elderly who cannot stand on their feet or feed themselves. They drive them to the synagogue, join them for bible lessons, put them in bed, clean them, and do it all with special care and love. But the minute they finish work they change completely, put on glamorous dresses and go perform in dusky clubs and bars in front of Israeli and Philippine audiences.

They meet at Chicki’s house next to the Carmel market in Tel-Aviv to rehearse their act. This weekly meeting provides a substitute for the home and family they left behind. These meetings convey warmth, friendship, and the ability to express oneself, which allows them to keep on going the rest of the week. The familial atmosphere is immediately cut off when a bombing occurs in a café on Alenbi street, two blocks away from Chicki’s house. The Israeli reality penetrates deep into the Philippine community and accompanies them to their show in Haifa, where things get out of hand as well, and violence erupts. But the show must go on. As they did not surrender to nature that made them men, they do not surrender to terrorism and violence.


Episode 2

Men dressed as women or women in the body of a man?

This is the question that this episode deals with. The group members take part in the beauty queen pageant of the gay Philippines in Israel. They go on stage in their best clothing and promise as part of the contestants’ aspirations to fight for “world peace”…Georgio the happy winner receives the crown from her big brother, Chicki, the leader of the group. It’s been several years that Chicki and Georgio are not talking because Chicki does not agree with the fact that Georgio’s Arab friend hits him and steals the money that they are supposed to send to the Philippines.

Neil, Chicki’s good friend, is tired of cleaning houses for snobby Israelis. However, Sally, who looks exactly like a woman, calls her employer “dad” and acts like his daughter.

Shirazi, the king of Tel-Aviv’s gay night life, wants the “Paper Dolls” to audition for a big party he plans to throw in one of his clubs, the TLV.


Episode 3

The big moment arrives. The “Paper Dolls” are about to perform at the TLV club, the most famous and important club in Israel, in one of the hottest events of the gay community of Tel-Aviv. The group is very excited during rehearsals. But reality hits hard and takes their fantasies away. Although the show takes place, Sally, Georgio, Chicki, Niel, and the others learn a hard lesson about show business, Israelis, and promises not kept.

On Christmas eve, Neil’s longing for home takes over and he decides to return home. The group throws Neil a farewell party. However, Sally has a hard decision to make, as her “old man” has to go through surgery and she must accompany him.


Episode 4

Just when it seems that all is going well for the “Paper Dolls” and that they found their place in Israel, the earth shatters. The change in the government policy towards illegal workers, and the establishment of the immigration police, make the lives of foreigners without a working permit a living hell. Police raids happen daily and the fear of deportation penetrates every corner. Meanwhile the “Paper Dolls” try to continue with their daily routine; work, shows, spending time together, and facing the various layers of Israeli society. The preparations for the beauty queen pageant are taking place. This time, the queen will be a biological woman. But the people who help prepare the contestants are Jan, Chicki and Georgio, the “real” women.

In Jerusalem, Cheska, the group choreographer, decides to distance himself a bit from the pressures of the big city. He organizes the Philipine independence day ceremony in a downtown hotel. The traditional celebration which takes place side by side with the Arab hotel workers and orthodox Jewish hotel guests, again, sharpens their foreign place in Israel.


Episode 5

Something is broken amongst the “Paper Dolls members”. Cheska, one of the group members is arrested on an immigration police raid and faces deportation. Tomer, the director, visits Cheska at the detention house and shoots a farewell speech from him that touches the “Paper Dolls” deeply and brings them to tears. They decide to organize a special show in his honor in order to raise money which will facilitate his return to the Philippines.

Chiki takes Cheska’s arrest very hard. He understands that the deportation threat hangs above all of them at any moment, and he comes to a courageous decision that is the beginning of the end for the “Paper Dolls”.

Meanwhile, the father-daughter relationship between Sally and her employer deepens. He buys her dresses and she supports him in his struggle against cancer. They too know that sooner or later they will have to part ways.

Chicki’s surprising announcement causes the show for Cheska to actually be the last show of the “Paper Dolls”. They were not prepared for this moment and are not sure how to handle it. In front of an Israeli and Philippine audience the band says goodbye and many tears are shed on stage.


Episode 6

End of story. In the last episode the “Paper Dolls” scatter to different places. The group that was once family, is no longer. Chicki the leader of the group prepares for his move to London. The situation is very emotional, as the group members pack a long life episode into suitcases, and find on the way pictures from the past, family pictures, childhood pictures, and memories of the less fond years where they were searching for their sexual identity.

The group gathers for the very last time for a farewell dinner at Tomer’s mom’s house. Her five sons are scattered all over the world as well, working in foreign countries. And her small son that is staying in Israel finds himself attracted to the special family unit called the “Paper Dolls”.

As a final token of sympathy, Tomer finds himself going through an initiation event. Chicki and Jan put makeup on him and make him a woman for a brief moment. And then, after he becomes one of them, they all say goodbye, and each goes to a new unknown chapter in their life.