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.