"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Longing by Savi Gabizon

At the Jerusalem Film Festival this week, I had the opportunity to view Savi Gabizon’s new feature film, Longing.  It is an extremely well-made and compelling film about family and bereavement.  It is also weird yet touching.

One day, a man’s past lover, who he hasn’t seen in about 20 years, comes to tell him that they had a lovely son together.  It was a long time ago, and she never told him.  But now she has come to tell him because their son died about a week before in a terrible car accident, and she felt he would want to know.  The man becomes obsessed with the son he never knew.  He is a successful businessman, but he puts it all aside to undertake a journey to discover his son – he travels up north to Acre, where the boy and his mother and her husband had been living.  There he learns about his son, who he was, who were his friends, and how he lived his life.  It turns out that his son was a bit of a loner, played piano, did drugs, and fell in love with his high school French teacher.  The film is filled with different characters who knew his son in some way, or with people who have also experienced loss. 

But none of this actually tells you what the film is about.  It’s about taking care of and defending your child, about caring for him, your responsibility toward him, and even worrying about his future.  It’s about obsession, love and longing for what you never had – and all of this is taken to the extreme, even to the absurd. 

In his other award-winning films, Shuroo (1990), Lovesick on Nana St. (1995) and Nina’s Tragedies (2003), Savi Gabizon also uses satire and the absurd to make a point about issues of societal disaffection.  But here, in Longing, his societal commentary deals with family, loss, and memorializing the dead.

Write to United Channels Movies for distribution information – info@ucm-film.com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Educational Issues

Scaffolding is a debut film by Matan Yair. It tells the story of a high school senior in Petah Tikva named Asher, who is struggling to finish school with a matriculation certificate.  He is one of the kids for whom school is not so easy – he is barely literate and he is tested orally in the matriculation exams.  We who live in middle class communities rarely meet this type of youngster– he is overly self-confident, always speaking up and telling you what he thinks, sometimes violent, and never quite understands the societal limits to his impulsiveness.

Asher’s domineering and somewhat cruel father owns a scaffolding business and Asher is learning the business, helping out in all of his spare time.  His father doesn’t understand how finishing high school will help his son in his future, so he discourages him from studying for the exams.  The Hebrew word for scaffolding is pigumim, which is a pun --  it is not only the buildings that they fix which are in bad shape, but also in desperate need of fixing is the society which allows schools to mistreat kids at the margins the way that this school does.

Asher and his friends have a new teacher for literature, who tries very hard to understand them and is able to communicate with them.  Indeed, he is a heroic teacher, reaching out to youngsters in trouble in ways that most teachers cannot succeed in doing. As a result, Asher suddenly wants to be the first in his family to finish high school.  But things are not so simple and after tragedy strikes, we wonder what will happen to Asher.

In his opening remarks at the premiere screening last night at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the filmmaker talked about his own experiences as a high school literature teacher, and his own fear that after completing high school, his students will never again read plays, short stories, or poetry.   This fear was the motivating force that was behind his writing the script for this excellent film, which was also screened recently at the Cannes Film Festival, and which gave him the impetus to use all non-professional actors, based on students he knew, when casting the high school students.

Scaffolding -- another film supported by the Gesher Multi-Cultural Film Fund – is a compelling and eye-opening story about Israeli high school kids who live on the margins, desperately wanting to learn like everyone else but years of illiteracy have taken their toll, leading them to a high school experience as juvenile delinquents.  It is also a story about a teacher who succeeds in making a difference in kids’ lives, reminding us of the power of good educators to help shape the future of their students.

For distribution information, contact maya@greenproductions.co.il

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Holy Air is a debut film, directed, written and starring Shady Srour.  In some ways this episodic comedy is similar to the films of Elia Suleiman – about a Christian Arab from Nazareth who is caught between his heritage (as represented by his relationship with his seriously ill father) and his biting and insightful look at his surroundings.  Also, similar to the films of Elia Suleiman, this one also has a dark side to it, seemingly pessimistic about the possibility of life here in the Middle East.

Holy Air is about a man named Adam.  Although he is a Christian, his name implies that he represents “every man”.  Just a typical guy, he is more interested in sex with his wife than just about anything else.  Having just learned that his wife is pregnant, he is trying desperately to find a way to support his family.  In addition, he is quite surprised to discover his own violent side, and he is critical of just about everything around him.  The film pokes fun at road rage, the Jewish establishment, the Muslim protection rackets, and the local church!

Adam has a great idea to make a lot of money – selling the very same air breathed by the Virgin Mary.  He “packages” and “bottles” the air and begins to sell it to tourists.  When he discovers that business is not really as simple as it seems, he works to bring together the Israeli Minister of Tourism, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church, and the head of the Nazareth Muslim mafia, all banding together for the sake of profit. 

This satire was funded by the Gesher Multicultural FilmFund!  I sit on the board, and I’m pretty proud of the diversity and quality of the films that we have funded. For distribution information, contact treem@orange.net.il

Monday, June 19, 2017

So-called Honor Killings

Here in Israel, the subject of so-called “honor” killings has been in the news a lot lately.  It seems that a surprisingly large number of Palestinian women have been murdered and all-too-often their murderers have not been apprehended.  Just this week, the headlines have been filled with the story of a 19-year-old woman who was murdered by her uncle in the northern Negev.  Both the Israeli and Palestinian Authority police have been trying to deal with this phenomenon but have not had much success.  In fact, the numbers of young women falling prey to this type of tragic end has risen in recent years. 

With her new film, Women of Freedom, Abeer Zeibak Haddad (who previously made Doma, about sexual abuse within the Palestinian community, which was reviewed on this blog in 2012) has created a hard-hitting documentary look at some of the issues and emotional personal stories of these honor killings. 

The film opens with a letter from a prisoner, a man who murdered his sister 17 years ago when he was 20 years-old.  Now, he realizes that he murdered her not for what she did or didn’t do but out of his own “despair, weakness and ignorance.” 

This film is filled with heart-breaking stories of young women and their families. The women are attacked for diverse reasons -- for wanting to break off with an abusive fiancé, for contemplating marriage with a non-Muslim, or for allegedly having sexual relations out of wedlock.  Members of the family feel that they must deal with these transgressions – no matter how insignificant – with their own hands. 

We meet the parents of Alaa, from Haifa, who studied to be a dentist.  They are compulsively caring for her gravesite. In another family, Rim went to the police to report that she felt threatened by her four brothers.  The police sent her home and she was murdered a few hours later. 

We also meet some women who have survived attacks by members of their families.  Halaa was attacked by her own knife-wielding father, but her aunt succeeded in stopping him. She explains that if you do something that seemingly only affects your own life, all of your extended family looks at it as something that also affects them. In fact, it reflects on them.  “If I make a mistake, everyone will get hurt.” In another example, Amal was purposefully hit by a car.  She was battered and bleeding but she survived.  She asks, why doesn’t our society defend its women?  She says her brother has destroyed her life and her dreams and she refers to herself as an “unburied corpse.”
This is a particularly artistic and human film, but Haddad has decided to also include statistics:  58% of Palestinians think that if a woman is murdered, it’s her own fault; 55% support the “honor” killings; 51% believe that the killers should not be brought to justice.  Haddad herself is haunted by a gruesome story from 40 years ago of a young woman whose grandmother crept into her bedroom at night and poured mercury into her ear.   She died shortly thereafter.

In my opinion, the name “honor killings” is a misnomer for two reasons.  First of all, how can it ever be a matter of honor to murder a young woman?  Secondly, it is important to note that not all of these women have been killed for allegedly bringing shame to their families.  Some of them were killed for other reasons, but the Israeli Arab community is suspicious that the Israeli police has been classifying the murders as honor killings as an easy way for them to ignore murders within the Arab community.

An extraordinary film, Women of Freedom (documentary, 57 minutes) provides a sensitive and substantive look at a terrible phenomenon that is continuing, without any seeming end in sight. The film is available from Journey Productions at www.journeyman.tv or contact the filmmaker Abeer Zeibak Haddad at suheilh@zahav.net.il.

Friday, June 2, 2017

"State-Less" Comes to Local Cinematheques

If you do film programming, you know that documentaries about musicians and artists can be very attractive to your audience.  State-Less, directed by Sharon Hoter-Ishay, is a new and award-winning art-film about an artist-musician named Adi Khavous.  The film is currently playing at Cinematheques around Israel.

Adi Khavous has been living in Montreal for years.  He sings and plays with a talented hard rock group – the SpoonLickers -- but admits that it barely pays to support him.  When he comes home to Israel for a visit, he stays with friends, since his father is living in France and his mother lives in a spiritual center.  

Adi is a compelling and unique human being, with a tendency towards personal introspection and a mischievous upcurl in his hair.  He is quite off-beat, living a life of unease and loneliness, searching for meaning and belonging.  He says he doesn’t feel comfortable abroad, and he doesn’t feel comfortable back in Israel.  He does wall art – a sophisticated and meaningful form of art for public consumption, much more provocative than graffiti – and large-scale installations.  And he dreams of becoming a success in the music world – and at the end of the film, he does find a new kind of success, but not the one he has envisioned!

State-Less offers a special look at a special figure -- a documentary (48 minutes) available directly from the filmmaker – state.less.is.wow@gmail.com or check out the website.www.State-Less.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grassroots Movement for Peace and Reconciliation

The film, The Field by Mordechai Vardi, is mostly about Ali Abu Awaad, a Palestinian, living in Beit Ummar near Gush Etzion junction, on the road that links Jerusalem to Hebron.  Abu Awaad believes in non-violence and learning to know the other and he is one of the founders of “Shorashim (Roots)”, a joint project of Palestinians and settlers in the Gush Etzion region. 

When he was a child, Abu Awaad’s mother was jailed for five years as a Palestinian activist.  He also sat in prison during the first intifada and lost a brother in the violence. 

This film is mostly about him and about the discussions that take place at the family’s field.  Located in the West Bank, within the heart of the conflict, there are also many Jewish activists who we meet in the film – Rabbi Avia HaCohen, Rebettzin Hadassah Froman (widow of the famous Rabbi Menachem Froman), Shaul Judelman, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and some others, mostly from the Jewish settlements in the Gush Etzion bloc.

Abu Awaad has permitted Israelis to erect a memorial on his land to the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered near there a few years ago and we watch as some of the parents of the boys come to meet Abu Awaad at this new memorial site. This is one of the most moving sections of the film.

He is particularly eloquent and he tells the Jews who come to hear him: “you want to stand in the shoes of the other, not to lose your identity but in order to engage him”.  His brother Khaled is also active and he talks about the despair among the Palestinian youth.  One of his sons is in jail and the other was hurt in a clash with Israeli soldiers and is now handicapped. 

The Abu Awaad brothers do not believe in going back in history and arguing over whose narrative is the right narrative.  Instead, they say we have to see each other as human beings and move on from there.

But do they have any followers? We don't know this from the film, but it seems that they are practically alone –and not terribly accepted—in Palestinian society.

And do the Jewish settlers—who are pioneers in this new movement of dialogue and reconciliation—have any traction in their communities?

Moreover, it is not entirely clear what the real purpose of this organization is. Is it to meet and learn to recognize the pain and suffering of the other?  This is a good first step, but is it enough?

Or, can we look forward to larger scale activities in the future?  Can these small numbers of Jewish settlers and Palestinian non-violent reconcilers actually have any impact in their communities, which are largely resistant to their activities? This would certainly be an important and welcome development, if they can pull it off.

The Field (documentary, 82 minutes) premiered at DOCAVIV a few days ago.  It is available from JMTFilms. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The People Want Social Justice

During the summer of 2011, Israel saw a major social protest which arose from a groundswell of young people trying to battle the high cost of living, especially the high cost of housing.  At that time, Daphni Leef was a film student who was having trouble paying her rent, so she decided to give up her apartment and pitched a tent on Rothschild Blvd., inviting others to join her via facebook.  Little did she know what she was getting into!

Slowly the movement grew, until it took on major proportions, which literally hundreds of thousands joined from all over Israel.  The slogan of the movement was “The People want Social Justice” and Daphni Leef found herself at the center of this almost uncontrollable event. 

The opening film at the DOCAVIV film festival, a few days ago, was the documentary film, Before My Feet Touch the Ground (לפני שהרגלים נוגעות בקרקע) directed by Daphni Leef.  This compelling film is both about her and about the movement.  It is a highly personal piece, as the filmmaker has decided to turn the camera on herself, so that we can see how one person is affected as she is trying to change the world. We see moments of great satisfaction and moments of despair, frustration, issues of ego, even some violence.  Eventually the tent city was shut down by the authorities.  This film provides an introspective look at herself, at what she went through, how she put herself on the line, how so many people were counting on her, and how it all just literally fizzled out. 

One minister in the right-wing government (Miri Regev) called the protesters left-wing radicals, because they shouted so much and wouldn’t let her speak when she came to the tent camp.  It was a funny moment, because there was no political side in this social protest movement, and also because it has become a regular slogan of the current government to blame everything on the left as if it is a dirty word!

Leef concludes the film with a mantra: “Open your eyes, close your eyes.” Open your eyes and see the inequality and the need for change.  Close your eyes and hide from the burden, the responsibility.  At the end, you are left dreaming – we must continue to dream – and we want to know where a charismatic woman such as Daphni Leef is going from here!

Before My Feet Touch the Ground is a documentary film, 87 minutes in length.