"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel", is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

My next speaking tour to North America will be in October 2015! Contact me if you are interested in my speaking in your community. My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Egyptian movies

Arabic Movie (directed by Eyal Sagui Bizawe and Sara Tsifroni) is a documentary film about Israel TV's screening of a weekly Egyptian movie on Friday afternoons during the 70s and early 80s.  The filmmaker's grandmother came from Egypt and was glued to the TV on Friday afternoons, watching the weekly Egyptian movie.  This was weekly family get-together time. 

The film talks about the proud Egyptian family's roots in Cairo, and also about their ties to Egyptian culture and to cultural iconic figures as seen in these weekly films.  

These films were heart-rending melodramas, and all the great Egyptian singers appeared in them.  They were also musicals, political allegories and some even provided Egyptian social criticism.
There were so many cultural and political issues inherent in the screening of these films.  For example,  this was the post Six Day War period, and originally the films were being screened for the large Palestinian population.  But, not surprisingly, the films immediately became very popular with Israelis whose roots were in Arab lands.  

The director of the department at Israel TV refused to provide Hebrew subtitles on the films because his goal was definitely not to encourage inter-cultural understanding.  However, he was forced to give in to public demand and eventually the films were all screened with Hebrew sub-titles and even Ashkenazim became hooked on this cultural programming.  They say that Shimon Peres, Ezer Weizman and Moshe Dayan all watched the Friday Arabic movies.

How were the films obtained, since we did not have diplomatic relations with Egypt during this time?  They were purchased in an underground smuggling operation, not exactly legal.  The films came from the Egyptians, via the Jordanians, to local Palestinian West Bank cinema owners, one of whom regularly sold it to Israel TV.  This ended with the closure of Palestinian cinemas during the first intifada.

Arabic Movie (documentary, 60 minutes), is a brilliant and compelling look at our place within the Middle East through the cultural lens.   Israelis watched these films -- but did we understand the people and their culture, especially since this was a period during which we were at war with the Egyptians?  The filmmaker's aunt, who says that she still has fond memories of her growing up in Egypt, and who lost a son in Sinai, says that she was able to feel the pain of an Egyptian's losses while watching the films. 
In addition to providing those who had been ripped from their lives in Cairo with the opportunity of feeling nostalgia for the lives they left behind, and with the enjoyment of the singing talent of so many of the Egyptian iconic figures of that time, the viewing of these films made us feel part of the greater Middle East, a feeling that has disappeared entirely during recent years as Israel has become more isolated.   

Monday, June 29, 2015

Encouraging Understanding Between Women

I recently received publicity on a small film festival called Nashim Nehedarot which is taking place in different venues in Israel.  The festival offers films that will help to bridge the divide between ultra-orthodox and secular women in Israel.   

One of the films being featured is Barren, עקרה , a short drama by Esti Shushan.  This is a compelling portrayal of an ultra-orthodox, young woman.  Nomi is married just a few years, but her husband is terribly disappointed that they haven't been able to get pregnant.  After having already raised children as the big sister to five younger siblings, however, Nomi is ambivalent about having children.  Short and to the point, extremely well-made and touching, this film provides a different perspective on ultra-orthodox women.  

This film was produced with monies from the Gesher Multi-Cultural Film Fund.  I sit on their Board and they provide me with the possibility of previewing so many of the latest Israeli films.  Many thanks to Ziv Naveh and the staff!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Family Saga - A Slice of History

With charm, humor, some irony and even a fair amount of irreverence, filmmaker Gur Bentwich's new documentary film, The Bentwich Syndrome, tells the story of his Anglo-Jewish family -- the descendants of Sir Herbert Bentwich.  Bentwich, a British noble, was a pioneer and leading figure of the British Zionist movement, who first visited Palestine in 1897 as recorded in the bestseller, My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit (the filmmaker's first cousin), fathered 11 children many of whom were rather eccentric, and was the great-grandfather of the filmmaker.  

In the opening sequence, the viewer learns the definition of the so-called syndrome which inspires the title of the film -- it causes family members to glorify their heritage and to exaggerate their importance and their contributions to society.  This is the story of Jewish aristocracy, the story of a dynasty that undoubtedly made major contributions to Jewish life and to Israeli society. 

The irreverent filmmaker travels with his wife and children to London to search for his family roots and finds quite a bit of fascinating trivia.  Nothing is sacred or secret in the eyes of the filmmaker, not the fact that a number of the Bentwich daughters converted to Christianity, not the fact that one was in love with the economist John Maynard Keynes who did not return her feelings, and not the fact that his own father (a recipient of the coveted Israel Prize) was considered the black sheep of the family. 

Using animated techniques, the film is a creative and fascinating story of a leading and impressive Zionist family.  Although somewhat self-indulgent, it is certainly entertaining!

The film The Bentwich Syndrome (documentary, 70 minutes) is available from the filmmakers, Gur Bentwich and Maya Koenig, at Gurumaya Productions (gurumaya@gmail.com ).

Friday, June 5, 2015

Censored Voices by Mor Loushy

Today is 48 years since the beginning of the Six Day War.  

Following the euphoria of winning the war, a group of kibbutzniks, led by Amos Oz, interviewed soldiers who had recently returned from the battlefield.  Although mostly censored by the military censor, the sound recordings of these interviews were published in a book called The Seventh Day (in hebrew: Siach Lochamim), edited by Avraham (Patchi) Schapira.   

Now, so many years later, the censorship has been lifted and the rest of the recordings have been made available.  Filmmaker Mor Loushy has taken these soundtracks and created a fascinating documentary film, Censored Voices ( שיח לוחמים ), which raises issues of morality during wartime.  This is not an easy film.  We see the soldiers today, men in their 60s and 70s, sitting and listening to themselves talk about their experiences, about their emotions, and about some of the terrible things that they did at that time.  In a very open interview, Avraham Schapira talks about the fact that these acts during the Six Day War -- and the ongoing atrocities by soldiers against Arab citizens of the West Bank -- is "a betrayal of the Zionist vision." 

The film was shown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque this week, and has received a lot of publicity, mainly due to the controversial nature of the material.  

Recently, my husband and I had the chance to preview the film.  For an in-depth look at some of the issues, see my husband's blog posting on The Times of Israel site. 

The film Censored Voices (documentary, 87 minutes) is distributed by Dogwoof  (ana@dogwoof.com).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Kind Words by Shemi Zarhin

I loved Shemi  Zarhin's newest film, The Kind Words, which just opened in cinemas in Israel.  Shemi Zarhin is well-known for his wonderful films -- Aviva My Love, Funny World, Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi and Passover Fever.  As in the others, this one is a rich and complex family drama, with in-depth quirky characters and comic elements.  

The Kind Words is about a Jerusalem family.  The mother is divorced from the father, who has found himself a younger wife.  There are three grown children -- the married daughter who is in crisis because she continues to have multiple miscarriages, the married brother who is religious with three kids, and the younger gay brother.  When the mother dies from a complication following surgery and their father reveals that he is unable to conceive children, the three siblings realize that they don't really know who they are.  They set out to discover their biological father, traveling  to Paris and to Marseille, slowly piecing together the story of their mother's past, working together to solve the mystery.  Together they uncover so much about their mother -- her growing up in Algeria,  her quirky sister living in Paris, and her estranged relationship with her parents -- and so much about themselves.

A film of charm, wit and irony, The Kind Words provides insight into issues of identity, family crisis, compromise and love.  This is a top notch film -- great directing, acting and editing with well-developed characters.  The Jerusalem/Paris/Marseille venues are compelling and rich, and the narrative construct provides both a road movie and a family drama. 

The film is available from Beta Cinema.