Insiders and outsiders in controversial Israeli films: Ve'ahavta (and Though Shalt Love)

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 Insiders and outsiders in controversial Israeli films: Ve'ahavta (and Though Shalt Love)

Israel has more film schools per-capita than any other country in the world. The product of this is not only a thriving feature film industry, but the less exposed short-film industry. These student films, often shown only at festivals, are some of the top in the world, and often surpass the quality of the feature films as they rely on very tight scripts.

At The JCC in Manhattan's annual Feigele Film Festival - The New York Jewish LGBTQ Film Festival we premiered the ground breaking, award winning short film Ve'Ahavta (And Though Shalt Love) directed by Chaim Elbaum. The film follows the coming out of a modern orthodox yeshiva student. It not only won an award at The Jerusalem Film Festival, but also one the award for best film of his school - Maaleh - the only religious film school in Israel. 

Although the religious community in Israel is far from accepting homosexuality, the embracing of this film is a sign of tolerance. Part of the recent success of Israel's industry is due to the openness towards artistic expressions even if critical and progressive. The lack of censorship, and support of work on sticky issues allows directors to express themselves freely and fosters a developed cinematic language.

This openness is further expressed in the honest approach towards culture. The Yeshiva world shown in Ve'ahvata is an insiders portrayal, and although not everyone can relate to that world, the audience feels like they are getting an honest picture of a rich world, filled with subtle nuances. From one's relationship to the Bezeq public phone and the Israeli distinct call waiting ring, to the specific mumbles and movements of a praying congregation. 

Another controversial Israeli film on this topic premiered at this year's Cannes film festival to rave reviews: Eyes Wide Open (Eynayim Pkuchot), as apposed to Ve'ahvta which deals with a modern world, Eyes Wide Open deals with homosexuality in the Ultra Orthodox community. Despite the amazing acting and beautiful story telling, the film shows the ultra orthodox world from a very novel perspective and does not allow the audience to completely penetrate this world, and rather feel like tourists in it.

One of the dangers of the international success of Israeli film is that Israel's self criticism is not necessary the fuel the world needs for this touchy topic. Israel's dirty laundry, however in need of cleaning, is not always understood by the outsider. The key then is to make the viewer an insider. The beauty of Ve'ahvta is the sincerity that allows anyone to feel at home even in a far off world.

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