Now in its 18th year, the Israeli Film Festival (Clearview Cinema, June 13-27) provides a valuable antidote to the daily barrage of violent images streaming in from the region. This year’s 38 features and documentaries offer a window onto the experiences of Israelis at home—from gay theater students to illegal migrant workers—and abroad, proving there’s more to that society than constant war and loss.
The opening-night selection, A Trumpet in the Wadi, a television drama directed by Lina and Slava Chaplin and based on the novel by Sami Michael, suggests the changes Israel has undergone with the accommodation of vast waves of Russian immigrants over the past decade. Set in a working-class Arab-Jewish neighborhood in Haifa (a city until recently known for close and peaceful coexistence between the two communities), this love story between a Russian Jew and an Israeli Palestinian—who, at 30, is past her prime for marriage—suffers from annoying handheld camerawork. But it’s enlivened by warm humor and boasts complex characters negotiating a tangle of familial and societal restrictions.
The country’s constant mutations provide fertile ground for its nonfiction filmmakers. (Two of the strongest documentary selections, Jorge Weller’s My Own Telenovela and Ronit Kertsner’s The Secret, also screened at the New York Jewish Film Festival.) “More happens here in a week than in Switzerland in a year,” an elderly Israeli woman remarks in It’s About Time, an engaging (if somewhat gimmicky) doc about the strange tempo of a culture that’s part First World and part Third World, with a millennial history but only 54 years as a state behind it. Using odd juxtapositions of interviews and archival footage, directors Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel manage to capture something of Israel’s frenetic and fragmentary reality, where messianic prophets share spaces at cafés with high-tech executives, wars mark the beginning and end of epochs, and time is punctuated by constant news broadcasts.