Some 40 selections, including features, documentaries, and made-for-TV miniseries, are screening in this year’s Israeli Film Festival, an ever expanding venue for that country’s still-limited cinematic output. The highlights offer intimate views of a complex and compelling society.
Yana’s Friends, a darkly comic feature by director Arik Kaplun, follows several ill-timed Russians who arrive in Israel as part of a vast wave of immigration just prior to the 1991 Gulf War. A refreshing slovenliness combines with warmth in the intertwined stories of Yana, a pregnant Muscovite abandoned in Tel Aviv by her feckless husband; her neighbor Eli, a sexy, voyeuristic Israeli wedding photographer; their landlady, who harbors a secret from her youth; and assorted street musicians and panhandlers. The sealed rooms in which they huddle during Scud missile attacks help bring out the best in everyone.
Menelik, by documentarian Daniel Wachsmann, focuses on a very different group of immigrants—Falasha, Ethiopian Jews whose assimilation has been hampered by discrimination. Menelik was a legendary black Jewish prince, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who brought Judaism back to Ethiopia. This film’s Menelik is a proud, handsome, and homeless young man named Gadi, who lives in Tel Aviv’s central bus station. His aimless, marginal life there is thrown into sharp relief when he travels back to Ethiopia (sponsored by the filmmaker) to search for his lost mother. The result is an absorbing portrait of a fractured identity.
What I Saw in Hebron uses eyewitness accounts, including the diary of filmmaker Noit Geva’s grandmother, to trace the traumatic events that occurred in Hebron in 1929, when in the space of two days, rioting Arab mobs murdered 84 Jews, neighbors with whom they had previously lived in harmony. Those Arab families who protected their Jewish friends had been largely forgotten by 1994, when another massacre stained this embattled West Bank city—settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire in a mosque and killed 29 Muslims. This intensely personal and moving documentary examines the cycles of violence and oblivion that tear apart the fragile tissue of trust between communities.