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First Documentary About History of Israeli Folk Music and Dance Is ‘A Story That Needs to Be Told,’ Filmmaker Says


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Members of the band Shamati. Photo: Video screenshot

A feature-length documentary about the roots of Israeli folk music and dance, and its reception in the United States has began production and is expected to be completed by the end of next year, The Algemeiner has learned.

The film, tentatively titled, I Hear You, is the first film to explore the history of Israeli folk music and dance, according to an Israeli folk music expert. The documentary will explore the origins of folk music and dance and explore its revival in the US, highlighting the American Jewish band from northern California called Shamati (the Hebrew term for “I hear you”), which has been performing Israeli folk music for almost 10 years.

“The story needs to be told—we have to capture this music while it’s still available. It’s our heritage,” the documentary’s director, Jonathan Maimon, told The Algemeiner.

The Jewish filmmaker, who comes from a family of musicians and music supporters, added, “We hope audiences will take away a sense of joy, we want people ‘dancing in their chairs’ when they watch this film. Regardless of their level of Jewish religious practice, we want the audience to feel something when they hear these songs and see these dances.”

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Viewers will also be introduced to the last surviving generation of Israeli folk musicians in their 80s and 90s including Effi Netzer, 89, who has recorded over 30 albums of Israeli folk music since the 1960s and still performs. His 1968 album is considered a classic recording of Israeli folk music. Also featured in the film is Israeli composer Nurit Hirsh, 80, an Israel Prize winner who composed the 1978 Eurovision Song competition winner Abanibi, 1,600 other songs and scores on 14 films.

Audiences will additionally be taken to Israel, where they will learn about Israeli folk music in a political, social, and cultural context, and gain knowledge about the immigrants who came to Israel and brought with them their cultural music and dance.

Included in the documentary is also archival footage, such as a clip that shows Jewish dancing in a displaced persons camp in Italy in 1948 by Jews from Romania and Russia who survived the Holocaust and are planning to immigrate to Israel. Another historical clip shows Yemenite Jewish men doing a folk dance in 1949 as they also await travel to Israel and a separate video shows a large group dancing in Poland in the 1930s prior to the Holocaust.

Production for the film began in September 2022 and Maimon launched on Thursday a Kickstarter page to help raise funds that will be used mainly to support travel to Israel, filming in the country and post-production. The production team, along with Shamati, hope to go to Israel to finish filming the documentary in mid-July.

I Hear You is expected to be completed by December 2024 and will then be screened at film festivals in the US, Jewish programs and events, and if possible, on streaming platforms. The documentary is Maimon’s second film. His first, Journey from Tunisia, premiered in 2017 at the Los Angeles Sephardic Jewish Film Festival and was screened at film festivals, synagogues and Jewish community centers around the US and Europe.

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