White Panther (directed by Dani Reisfeld) is a feature film filled with tension and drama, and also lots of boxing. It is interesting that in many films we have seen how sports, and boxing specifically, can be a method to take a youngster out of the slums and set him on a different path. Here, we see the same thing, set against the background of Russian immigrants living in Tiberias.
Following the large immigration of Jews from the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s, most of the immigrants acclimated and became integrated into Israeli society. However, there were those who could not find their place here, and were very resentful of the discrimination that they encountered, who closed themselves into their own societies and own neighborhoods. This is the story of a gang of Russian hooligans, working for the Russian mob, who hate everything about Israeli society due to the fact that they have not been able to find their place within it.
Alex's family is falling apart. He is the teenage son of Russian immigrants and already has a police record. His father was killed in action during the intifada and his older brother, his replacement father figure, is trying to get him involved in a gang of hooligans. But, a local cop (of Moroccan background) takes notice and gives Alex a chance to follow his dream and become a boxing champion, just like his father.
There is forbidden love -- between Alex and the cop's daughter -- and there is a very strong family element -- Alex is very connected to his mother, who, although unable to get up from her sickbed, is trying desperately to protect Alex from following in the footsteps of his big brother.
The film portrays shocking hatred between ethnic groups -- terrible discrimination that is shown against the Russian youngsters by native-born Israelis -- and a surprising amount of violence and crime in the slums of Tiberias. The cop (played by Zev Revach) -- who also becomes a father figure to Alex -- talks about how he himself experienced discrimination as a Moroccan immigrant when he came to this country, just as Alex and his friends are experiencing discrimination today. (Not exactly a subtle script element since I felt this parallel should have been understood by the viewer and did not need to be explained -- especially since the title of the film refers to the fact that the Moroccans were called Black Panthers back in the 1970s and 1980s when they were organizing against the widespread discrimination that they encountered.)
Although it is a bit shocking to see this underbelly of Israeli society, I still thought the pacing and tension and drama were superb and that White Panther, albeit a tough film, is a film not to be missed. It is available from Israeli Films