The Cultural Connection: Two Winners from the Israel Film Festival
It wasn't easy to get into many of the films at the Israel Film Festival that closed last night. But Friday morning I was able to catch Sharqiya which won the award for best Israeli film at the festival. As is often the case the film and its success point to all the complexity of Israel. From the official description of the film: Kamel lives with his brother and sister-in law at the edge of the Negev desert on land that has been in their Bedouin family since the Ottoman Empire. But since they have no paperwork to prove their ownership, their claim is disputed by the Israeli government. State officials eventually hand down an order for demolition of the family's few small shacks. These strains take the toll on the family, exacerbating existing tensions. Kamel serves as a security guard at a central bus station. Khaled resents his brother's willingness to work for the very government that is causing their problems, despite his reliance on Kamel's income. When the brothers try to appeal the demolition order, even the Bedouin Authority office advises them to accept compensation and abandon their land.
The situation seems hopeless, until Kamel comes up with a plan.The film, made by an Israeli crew is largely in Arabic with Bedouin actors(or more likely non professionals) portraying the plight of the local bedouin population living just outside of Beersheba. The film was underwritten by the Israel film fund , upon accepting the award the screenwriter stated that he hopes the film reaches a wide audiences and changes peoples' image of the Bedouin population in the south. As someone involved with both an Israeli student group committed to fulfilling Ben Gurion's vision of the future of the Jewish people in the Negev and a bicultural Jewish Arab school in Beersehba--it definitely gave me much food for thought. As with everything I encounter in Israel, most things get more complicated the more you examine them.
I caught another prizewinner from the fesitval last night at the Jerusalem Theatre. Hamashgichim (God's Neighbors in English) tells the story of some tough guys turned followers of rav nachman who decide to take it upon themselves to set the neighborhood straight in terms of its religious observance.This is just another example of how culture, in this case film can give such a great window into Israeli culture. Fortunalely several major cities have Israel film festivals but there's no need to wait for that. Netflix, Amazon and other sources including some libraries are full of Israeli films. Here are a few of my favorite older films that give different views of Israeli life:
Summer of Aviya (1988)/Under the Dunam Tree: Based on the autobiographicalnovel by Gila Almagor now the grand lady of Israeli theatre which gives great insight into the early days of the state of Israel as seen through the eyes of a child refugee from the Holocause making her new life in Israel.
Turn Left at the End of the World (2004): The world of new immigrants in a development town in the south of Israel in the 1960s as seen through the idea of two young immigrant women: one from North Africa and one from India.
James Journey to Jerusalem (2003): A young Priest sent from his African congregation on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem his trip becomes a bit different and a great insight into both the plight of foreign workers and the meaning of that great Israeli sin "being a a "fryer."