Tonight, I spoke at a screening of Lady Kul el-Arab, a documentary film by Ibtisam Mara'ana, at a mini-Israel Film Festival at the Kane St. synagogue in Brooklyn. The event was very well-attended by a diverse group which included Jews and non-Jews, older adults and younger folks.
I have written about this film before -- but the discussion was very exciting at this event and I wanted to share more thoughts.
This is a story of a teenage girl who is denied her dream by the religious leaders of her Druze community. As the story unfolds, we see that the film is about how tradition, culture and religion rule our lives, about gender roles, and about how much we are willing to sacrifice for our dreams. Duah Fares takes the name of Angelina as part of her attempt to leave the provincial Arab world of her youth behind and to move into the Tel Aviv culture. At first she tries living between the two cultures, but then she is forced to choose -- and she chooses the Tel Aviv beauty pageant because she believes it could be a staging ground for her to enter the world of modeling in the international arena.
Similarly, the filmmaker, Ibtisam Mara'ana has made choices in her own personal life. She has left the traditional Arab town of her growing up (a coastal town, Faradeis, south of Haifa) and moved to Tel Aviv where she works as a successful and courageous documentary filmmaker. Her films deal with a feminist agenda within the Arab Israeli realm. As she becomes very close to the women she is portraying, she becomes involved in their struggles, exposing certain issues that were previously tabu.
In Lady Kul el-Arab, she touches on issues of family honor, female modesty, and the power that men wield over women in a traditional society. In Three Times Divorced, she grapples with the violation of the rights of a divorcee in the Bedouin community.
On this speaking tour, I was visiting in Louisville where I enjoyed a remarkable exhibition of portraits at the 21C hotel gallery. The portraits that were displayed were a mix of famous personalities and also of unknown men and women who help us understand so much about the world in which they live. So too in documentary film. This film, Lady Kul el-Arab is a portrait of one woman, a portrait that helps us struggle and confront the challenges facing one particular individual. In so doing, the film helps us to better understand our own community and our own selves. Duah/Angelina Fares is not the only woman in Israel who has suffered as a result of the power wielded by the narrow-minded, male, religious/extremist establishment.