Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Food Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    A Chabad rabbi from Rhinebeck, NY, will face off a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in an upcoming episode of the Food Network‘s reality show, “Chopped,” Lubavitch.com reported. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht – who teaches up-and-coming chefs about the intricacies of kosher dietary laws at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — was nominated for the show by a professional chef, and went through a rigorous interview process at the Food Network’s studios in Chelsea, NY. Months later, he was informed he had been accepted as a contestant in the popular TV cooking competition. “I thought […]

    Read more →