Seeing Israel Through Film

July 27, 2012 11:25 am 0 comments

The Old City serves as the backdrop for the Jerusalem Film Festival. Photo: Judy Lash Balint.

A majority of American Jews has never stepped foot in Israel, according to the 2012 survey of American Jewish Opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee. So outside of news items about the latest political machinations and security threats, how does this group form impressions of Israel?

Over the past two decades, Jewish and Israeli film festivals showcasing Israel’s growing output of both feature and documentary films seem to be filling the bill.

Seventy-nine North American cities will host Jewish or Israeli Film festivals in 2012, with estimated audiences in the tens of thousands.

Directors of a number of those festivals gathered at the recently concluded Jerusalem Film Festival to determine what North American audiences will be seeing from Israel on their big screens next year.

Isaac Zablocki, Executive director of The Other Israel Film Festival and program director of the Israel Film Center of the JCC of Manhattan, watched six films a day over the 10-day stretch of the prestigious Jerusalem Film Festival that takes place every July at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Together with Other Israel Film Festival founder Carol Zabar, Zablocki is looking for films at the Jerusalem Festival that convey the complexity of Israeli society and help close the gaps of “cultural misunderstandings” between American Jews and Israelis. The Other Film Festival, now in its fifth year, was set up to focus on Israel’s Arab minority, but over the past two years, Zablocki explains, films dealing with “anything non-mainstream Israel” are gaining in popularity.

Israel’s diverse religious community has become the focus of a number of recent documentaries and features, but they don’t always translate well for American audiences, according to Zablocki.

Take God’s Neighbors, winner of the Anat Pirchi Feature Award at the Jerusalem Festival, for example. The film portrays the uglier side of three newly-religious Breslov Hasidim who terrorize their neighborhood in Bat Yam. “I don’t think a U.S. audience will connect,” Zablocki predicts.

Zablocki explains that the Manhattan audience for Israeli films has changed over the years. “It used to be just Zionists who came to the old Israeli films,” Zablocki says. “Now, due to the quality of Israeli film, we get a younger crowd. It used to be falafel, now it’s hummus,” he quipped. It’s the unaffiliated young Jews that every Jewish outreach organization is trying to reach that turn up to see Israeli films, Zablocki adds.

The audience for the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema is very different from the progressive young crowd in Manhattan. “Chicago is conservative.  Jews here love to see Israel in a good light, so I have to be careful what we bring,” explains Beverly Braverman, a founding member of the Chicago Festival.

The Chicago Festival generally screens 15 or 16 films, including six features and nine documentaries plus one popular Israeli TV show. Most of the shows are sell-outs, according to Braverman.

However, when Braverman included the popular TV series, Arab Labor, (Avoda Aravit–Israeli slang for shoddy work) that pokes fun at Israeli Arabs trying to fit into Israeli society, “there was an empty auditorium.”

“The majority of our audience is people in their 50’s. Many in the older crowd have trouble with the sub-titles.”  Braverman states bluntly. The Festival does organize special screenings for groups of Jewish teens. “That’s what I care about the most,” Braverman admits.

She is perplexed by the absence of members of the large observant community in the Chicago area and disappointed by the low interest of the non-Jewish community.

Nevertheless, according to Braverman, moving the Festival to a suburban theater has meant there are more sold out films every year. “For $11 you can support Israel,” notes Braverman.

Braverman has been coming to the Jerusalem Film Festival since 2005 to select films for her audience. Like Zablocki, Braverman packs many films per day into her Jerusalem schedule. “It’s the only place to see so many great Israeli films,” she explains.

For Braverman, a lively and outgoing former trader who has made many friends over the years among Jerusalem Festival regulars, the Jerusalem festival is where she connects with distributors to negotiate deals for her low-budget independent festival and to share notes with fellow Israel film directors from around the world. “I call it film camp,” she laughs.

Tony Jassen scouts films at the Jerusalem Festival for Seattle’s Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Jassen, a former Seattle resident now living in Jerusalem who has an MFA in scriptwriting from Tel Aviv University and a degree in film and TV production from Jerusalem’s Hadassah College, says he tries to look for films that are not “on the circuit” and that will appeal to the diverse Seattle audience. Last year, more than a third of the Seattle festival’s offerings had a Sephardic theme, reflecting the fact that Seattle is home to the third largest Sephardic community in the U.S.

“There’s no doubt the Jerusalem Film Festival is the big showcase for films and directors,” Jassen says. “Films give voice to the wide range of the Israeli experience, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.