A neglected corner of one of the world's most heavily scrutinized countries gets its moment in the sun in The Film Class,
a documentary shot in Arabic, Hebrew and English by an unlikely set of Israeli collaborators - Jewish Ramat Gan resident Uri Rosenwaks and a group of black Beduin women from the remote Negev city of Rahat. Produced with funding from the New Israeli Foundation for Film and Television, The Film Class
is the product of Rosenwaks' 18-month relationship with his Rahat students, and premieres tonight at 9:30 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Further screenings are planned in the coming weeks at the Tel Aviv and Haifa Cinematheques, and in Sderot.
With a running time of 53 minutes, The Film Class
sends its small cast of real-life characters to England, Zanzibar and the municipal offices of Rahat, where they explore the poorly recorded history of Israel's black Beduin population and confront intra-community discrimination in a discussion with their hometown's mayor.
A community nearly always overlooked in discussions of race and ethnicity in Israel, black Beduin, viewers learn, are believed to have arrived in the Middle East as slaves from east Africa, where they were captured and sold by Arab merchants until as recently as a century ago. Black Beduin in Rahat are still called "slaves" by their neighbors - whom they in turn refer to as "white" - and the two groups live separately and at times tensely in their small desert city.
Though viewers inevitably end up wishing the film offered more by way of structure and background information, The Film Class is nevertheless intriguing as it explores life in Rahat, particularly in the aftermath of a recent scandal that ended with a young black groom fleeing to England after receiving death threats from the family of his Arab Beduin bride. (His last name, he points out in a bitter aside, is a corruption of the Arabic word for slave.)
In a discussion filmed at Rahat's city hall, the mayor responds by saying that he rejects racism but respects tradition, which in this case means the "right" of the bride's family to end her marriage on racial grounds.
Where the Israeli government stands on all this is only one of the many questions that go unanswered in the film's insufficient running time, but a glimpse of life outside the country's urban centers and kibbutzim is worthwhile nonetheless. Israel's people - and its problems - are endlessly unexpected.
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