The 9th Annual Other Israel Film Festival wrapped up this week at the JCC Manhattan. This year, the festival, founded as “a vehicle for cultural change and social insights into the nature of Israel as a democracy and the complex condition of the lives of its minorities,” featured 12 documentaries and just one narrative film, as well as a selection of short films. (The closing night Palestinian feature Dégradé backed out.) Some of this year’s notable selections include, Jeruzalem, an angsty horror film bizarrely set on Yom Kippur (Freud would have had a field day with this); 2015 Ophir Award-winner Censored Voices, which debuts the unadulterated recordings of conversations between Israeli soldiers and author Amos Oz immediately following the Six-Day War in 1967; and Oriented, which examines ideology and sexuality among a group of young, gay Palestinians, some of whom are “in love with the enemy [Zionists].” Other films explore the meta-narrative of Zionism, issues of migrant workers and African refugees, and the rock scene in Sderot, a town under constant rocket fire. Here are my thoughts on two films of the the festival’s powerful offering.
Arabic Movie is a stunner. The documentary from co-directors Eyal Sagui Bizawe and Sara Tsifroni, examines the phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s of Israelis watching Egyptian cinema on TV—these stations were “able to transcend hostile boundaries to obtain” them—as they welcomed the Sabbath. For instance, the film captures the reactions of Egyptian Jewish immigrants, such grandmothers, who tear up when they re-watch beloved classics that dramatically depict the glamorous Egypt they left behind. These instances reminded me of my father, a Refusenik who still recites Pushkin with admiration for high-Russian culture. Arabic Movie also includes fantastic footage from the Egyptian movie productions themselves, and offers a glimpse into the complex tales of how enemy reels made their way into Israel and the subsequent rampant demand for Hebrew subtitling.
In Partner With the Enemy directors Duki Dror and Chen Shelach depict the relationship between two female entrepreneurs—one Palestinian and one Israeli. The film follows Shelach’s wife, Anat, in her quest to partner with Ramallah resident, Rola, to operate an efficient logistics business expediting commercial cargo from Israeli ports to Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The raw, tense, and passionate interactions between these two businesswomen, which persist through wars, security threats, and Middle Eastern chauvinism. The film constantly redefines the notion of “minority,” a mission of the festival.