"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, August 22, 2008

Student dramas about Jewish Women from Ethiopia

It is estimated that today approximately 85,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel, of whom approximately 25% were born here. This community of Jews, especially those who came from Ethiopia, has faced many challenges in Israel today. Their status as Jews has been questioned continuously by the religious institutions of the country. Integration into the educational system has not been an easy path. And, certainly, it has been a challenge for them to move from a traditional culture to a more open and modern one, from a developing country to a democratic and highly industrialized one.

Gender roles are different in Israel and women here are empowered to make their own decisions, run their own lives, and influence the society in which they live. Traditional fathers who came from Ethiopia find it hard to let go of the power that they once could yield in the family. Mothers see the new temptations of education and satisfaction through the workplace as difficult to obtain. But in the generation that has grown up here, men and women are taking their place in Israeli society without the difficulties and crises that their immigrant parents were forced to undergo.

I have chosen to offer a glimpse of three short fiction films, all made by women filmmakers, produced within the framework of three different film schools, all of which deal with Ethiopian Jewish women and their challenges as they leave their old lives behind.

MirrorsDirected by Orly Malessa, this film, tells the story of a married woman living in Israel, who remembers back to when she was a teenage girl in Ethiopia.

The woman makes a living by cleaning a school, where she yields to the temptation of studying Hebrew in an evening class, without her husband's knowledge. In a flashback, she recalls her life as a free spirited adolescent girl, and how surprised and hurt she was when she learned that her parents had arranged a marriage for her and she had to leave her parents home. This is a very touching film about a beautiful Ethiopian woman trying to adapt to her new surroundings, living in an arranged marriage that took place 20 years ago in Ethiopia, when she was just a girl. (35 minutes, 2004, Film and TV School, Sapir College).

The film is available from Sigal at Sapir College, sigalgo@sapir.ac.il or from Hedva Goldshmidt at http://www.go2films.com/

MuluDirected by Alamark Marsha, this is a sensitive portrait of a woman who is unable to break out of the bonds that her marriage imposes upon her.

The film provides a look at the position of women in traditional Ethiopian society. In loving close-up, we watch every step as Mulu prepares Ethiopian bread. She is already a grandmother and discovers that she is pregnant again. One of her grown daughters tells her that she has enough children – but Mulu won’t listen to her. The same daughter wants her mother to sell her handicrafts and maybe even get a job. But Mulu’s husband is unable to cope with such changes in his world. He takes all of his wife’s woven baskets off the wall, down to the street, and lights a bonfire. Mulu watches him do it and does not stop him. This is her life and she knows that she cannot change it. But we know that her daughters already live in a different world. (25 min., 2008, Tel Hai)

Available from tikshoret@telhai.ac.il

Jephtah's Daughter
Directed by Anat Kapach, the film takes place during 1984, when approximately 8,000 Jews were brought to Israel via Sudan, mostly from the north/northwest region of Ethiopia, the region of Gondar. Thousands more lost their lives on the trek and in the refugee camps of Sudan during that period.

The story is about a Jewish family who is crossing the desert, desperately trying to get from Ethiopia to Khartoum, where Jews are being airlifted to Israel. The trek is filled with hardship and along the way, the father of the family is suddenly captured by bandits. It is clear that this is a terrible tragedy, as the family will probably not survive without the support, protection and leadership of the father. At this point, the oldest daughter realizes that she can save her family by making a remarkable and heroic sacrifice. (19 minutes, Ma'aleh Film School)

Available from the Ma'aleh Film School

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