"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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Issues of Identity

A.K.A. Nadia by Tova Ascher is a hard-hitting and effective Israeli feature film which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival this past week.  It is a complex narrative statement about issues of identity, racism and intolerance.  Can we shed our past or our identity the way we shed clothes at the end of the day?  

Nadia is a Palestinian teenage girl whose boyfriend, Namer, is being sent to London (apparently for terrorist activity).  She decides to marry him secretly and follow him to London, where they live separately, due to the dangers of his work.  One day when she is out, her landlady is picked up by the police and Nadia is afraid to return home.  Unable to locate her boyfriend, she eventually finds a job in a laundry, saves enough money and goes to buy a forged passport so that she can return home to Palestine to her mother.  She ends up buying a real passport which belonged to a girl who, together with her entire family, was killed in a terrible crash.  The only problem -- her new identity is Jewish Israeli.

Fast forward 20 years -- Nadia, now called Maya, is living in Jerusalem, married to a lawyer who is involved in the right-wing government, mother to two teenagers, and works as the director of a dance company.  She is passing as Jewish and tries to keep away from political discussions.  For all intents and purposes, we see a typical Israeli family.  When Maya's past comes back to haunt her we realize that one cannot live forever hiding one's past.  

In a very difficult and tumultuous scene, she goes to see her husband in his office, sitting across the desk from him, as if she is a client coming to seek legal advice, and begs for them to live "as if nothing has changed".  But her husband is  no longer capable of seeing her as the woman he loves.  His eyes see a stranger, an Arab woman. One might have thought that we could transcend such definitions. 
A.K.A. Nadia is a superb film with complexity of plot and narrative tension.  An Israeli-U.K. co-production, the film is available from Two-Team Productions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Struggling with Moral Dilemmas

Wounded Land by Erez Tadmor (previous films: A Matter of Size, Strangers) is a new feature film that premiered at the 32nd International Jerusalem Film Festival last night.  It is a hard-hitting, gritty film which casts a critical eye on so much within Israeli society -- about corruption in the police force, anti-Arab racism, and how people behave with great hatred and fear in the wake of a suicide bombing.
The entire story of the film, which takes place in one day and night, is about two Israeli policemen in Haifa, one is senior to the other, one is corrupt, both are family men and longtime friends, one is being pressured by his superiors on the police force to tape the other and to bring him down.  But he doesn't want to ruin his friend's life. This is about how both policemen are personally and professionally affected by a tragic suicide bombing.

Erez Tadmor, following the screening last night, said he built the script around a story that he heard in which a suicide bomber survived his bombing and was hospitalized in an Israeli hospital.  In the film, this part of the story requires a police presence to defend him against revenge by enraged Israelis.  In fact, one of the main moral dilemmas in the film revolves around whether or not we should preserve the life of this terrorist, especially as victims of the bombing await their turn impatiently in the emergency room.

Wounded Land casts a lens on Israeli society, focusing on  both its positive and negative elements.  It is an effective portrayal,  filled with much tension and a wide array of diverse characters, all of whom are struggling to deal with intense personal dilemmas in the light of a suicide bomb attack.  
There is one rogue policeman who is uncontrollable and often violent.  Following  the bomb explosion,  the assistant director of the local hospital, an Israeli Arab doctor,  is beaten up in the parking lot by an angry Jew looking for revenge.  The suicide bomber himself is portrayed as a young man, disappointed in love.  Speaking of love, one of the policemen is wooing a nurse at the hospital while they are both working under so much pressure.  There are three fathers of boys in a judo club, all of whom were present at the time and place of the bombing.  One boy is killed, one is hurt badly, and one is traumatized and runs away. The fathers all behave differently – they each have different values, different morals.

The film has a poignant ending, which I leave it to you to decide if it is a suitable conclusion of this complex story, about a subject which most of us in Israel would prefer to forget or deny.  In any event, this film leaves you thinking and wondering about how we would all cope if faced with the same dilemmas that the heroes of this film had to face.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kutiman, Give It Up and Princess Shaw

Kutiman is a musical phenomenon.  He remixes other peoples' youtube clips of music and songs and makes them into new creations.   The film Thru You Princess (directed by Ido Haar) documents the story of how Kutiman discovered a tremendously talented lyricist/singer on you tube and transformed her into a star!  Samantha, known as Princess Shaw on youtube,  is an African-American woman from New Orleans, who writes phenomenal lyrics and sings beautifully and puts all her songs up on youtube.  The film follows her in her lonely personal life, her work as a caregiver in a home for the elderly, her disappointments in trying to get her singing career to take off, and her surprise when Kutiman's mix uses her song Give It Up. She is a wonderful woman, projecting much charm, and a fair amount of soul! 

Check out the song and the remix on youtube -- Kutiman- Give It Up

 Kutiman lives on a kibbutz in the Negev, mixing music from you tube pieces that he uncovers.  The film opens with a scene at the Guggenheim Museum where he is honored as the entire museum is transformed into a glittering youtube screen, projecting enormous images from his productions.  He "discovers" Princess  Shaw and, when his remix goes viral, she becomes a star! 

In a moving sequence, Princess Shaw comes to Tel Aviv for a magical performance together with Kutiman and his orchestra, at the Habima Theater.  She sings her own soul lyrics, accompanied by Kutiman and his orchestra.

Following the screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival today, she received thunderous applause and returned the audience's love with an impromptu rendition of one of her songs!  

I loved this film! Thru You Princess (documentary, 78 minutes) is a heartwarming music documentary, showing how we are all interconnected today via the internet, providing  the story of an African-American singer with an Israeli connection! Available from First Hand Films.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Tale of Survival

From 1941 to 1943, a Nazi labor camp existed in the town of Novogrudok, Belarus.  When the Nazis invaded, first there were mass shootings of Jews in the forest.  Then a group of about 30 farmhouses in the Novogrudok area were used to ghettoize the Jews.  Then came slave labor. On a night in September, 1943, the last 250 Jewish slave laborers escaped via a tunnel that they had dug.  Two thirds made it to the safety of the forests and the partisans.  Filmmaker Dror Shwartz accompanies a group of 3 surviving escapees from that slave labor camp and 50 of their descendants back to the campsite in their attempt to find the tunnel that saved their lives.  His resultant film of both depth and emotion is called Tunnel of Hope.

This is a compelling and thorough documentary film.  It includes 1931 footage of the town and interviews with a fascinating array of characters,  including the survivors/escapees, their descendants and even with locals, some of whom actually lived during that time.   There is the story told by the descendants of the dog catcher's family who tried to save some Jews and were shot by the Nazis as a result.  The grandchildren of the escapees are interviewed, one expresses his relief knowing that his grandfather and the other escapees took matters into their own hands and took action against the Nazi war machine.  

Then there are the escapees themselves who talk about the different opinions among the prisoners about the dangers of escaping.  They tell stories of how they dug the tunnel in 1943 which makes for a fascinating film story.  They had ingenuous ideas --  cutting up a blanket to create buckets to remove the large amounts of earth, hooking up an electric line to light the long tunnel as they were digging, putting in pipes for air ducts and a wagon for moving along the dirt.  They took turns digging, helping out with food for the diggers when they missed work.  

In the modern-day search for the tunnel, first an underground sonar operator and an archeologist from Grodno University are brought in to decide where to dig.  Then the digging begins.  In order to build tension, the digging is interlaced throughout the film.  As the descendants of the escapees are digging and wondering whether or not the tunnel will be found, the viewer is also wondering and hoping that the tunnel is actually there and will be unearthed.  

The film is meticulously put together, integrating all of the different elements, creating a compelling film with a lot of tension and leading up to a strong conclusion.  It is also interesting to look at the escapees themselves -- certainly not heroic characters but rather normal people who worked together to ensure their survival. 

Tunnel of Hope (documentary, 88 minutes) is available from Go2Films.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Divorce and the Haredi Community

Family Matters, directed by Noa Roth, is an intimate and fascinating documentary film that tells the story of the filmmaker's growing up, her family, how the family was ripped apart when her mother chose to take her children and leave her husband and haredi (ultra-orthodox) community behind.  Her mother, Yehudit Rotem, was a haredi woman, the mother of seven children, who today is a distinguished author.  

The mother is adamant not to appear together in the film with her ex-husband because of the difficult times that she endured at his hands.  For example, as a young mother she wanted to study and he literally burned her books.  She talks about her emotional and spiritual crisis.  She picked herself up, took her six daughters and moved to a smaller apartment, removing them from that world.  

Noa, on the other hand, although she has no intention of becoming haredi, says her mother ripped her children away from their father and their community.  Today, via the making of this film, Noa is trying to heal a deep wound that she feels still exists within her family.  Her mother and father have not spoken since the divorce, and her oldest sister, Tami, who was a teenager at the time of the divorce, doesn't speak to her father.  

This film provides an intimate glimpse into the tragedy of one family and also into the haredi world that the mother left behind.  It includes fragments from the mother's exquisite writings, using them as a mirror of that world. 

Family Matters (documentary, 66 minutes), won the Audience Award at DocAviv 2015, and is available from Go2Films.