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After a tour of Jewish communities in North America and South Africa that lasted several months, director Guy Lieberman brings his short movie Universal Face to Jerusalem for its Israeli premiere on Tuesday, December 19, as part of the Eighth Annual Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.
The pilot production of a proposed 10-part series based on the kabbalistic idea of the Tree of Life, the film is an innovative audio and visual collage shot entirely in Israel. Incorporating specially filmed live music performances, in-depth interviews and striking images of life in the Holy Land, Universal Face, subtitled "Earth," is a fast moving montage of colors, sounds and ideas that aims to reveal the "deeper side of things," as understood by mystical Judaism.
"Audience response to Universal Face has been very positive," says Lieberman. "People love the fact that they're seeing Israel and Judaism in an entirely new light - teenagers specifically get a big kick out of the film. It's fresh, flows in swift motion [and it's] multi-screened and cool, so they relate. The film was screened at several Jewish high schools in New York, and the South African Board of Jewish Education had every teenager under its jurisdiction see the film in a classroom setting. In all cases, I was invited to be present and engage the teens in dialogue about the Jewish spirit, and many commented that they had never experienced Judaism in this way.
"The Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival is the first official film festival for Universal Face," he continues. "We decided to be very specific, approaching the film tour by taking it on the road by invitation only to Jewish communities. We created unique events around the film, including bringing in musicians and local authorities on Kabbala. I avoid questions on the topic as I'm a filmmaker, not a Kabbalist - but if people ask someone has to answer, so we invite those who know to attend and deal with such questions."
Lieberman, 35, was raised in South Africa in a traditional Jewish household. In his early 20s wanderlust set in, and he spent several years traveling the world before encountering an event that would change his life: a meeting with the Dalai Lama in India in the early 90s. Lieberman was inspired by the Tibetan cause and became an activist for Tibetan freedom.
The other film scheduled at the screening, The World Festival of Sacred Music - Africa, relates to this time in his life.
"The World Festival of Sacred Music was the millennium initiative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama," he explains. "Before I came to Israel I was principally a cultural activist and acted as a liaison for the Dalai Lama for his visits to South Africa. I was deeply involved in the Tibetan political freedom struggle, and still maintain ties with the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama initiated the festival as a global event - each continent held a World Festival of Sacred Music."
Lieberman was director of the African festival, hosted by the city in Cape Town. The 26-minute film captures that event, and was broadcast throughout Africa and parts of the world. He came to live in Israel soon after, in 2000.
"For me, it was a pivotal point in my personal journey: After five years of working full-time as an activist for Tibetan freedom in a South African context, I chose to come explore my Jewish roots here in Israel. The two films show a process, bound by music, message and visuals, of the path as I have walked it in relation to the world at large, and to my own people. So this will be a subtext for the evening, but in all honesty I feel the content of the films is more interesting than me as a character."
He is currently seeking additional funding to create the other nine installments of Universal Face, but seems content to wait until the right combination of money and vision can be found and is keeping busy with promotion - in a unique piece of hasbara, he recently licensed the film to the South African Broadcasting Corp., which will broadcast it throughout Africa.
The old country seems to be very much on his mind. After six years in Israel, Lieberman is currently making plans to relocate to South Africa.
"I have many commitments there, including family and community that I long to be with, as well as large-scale projects that will hopefully bring some benefit to the region. South Africa is an exciting place to be now - it holds a similar edge to Israel and there is so much potential there. I think South Africa's success will be Africa's success. Israel will remain a source of my inspiration and pride, and I'll very likely be in and out of this country a lot of the time."
Universal Face and The World Festival of Sacred Music - Africa will be shown beginning at 8 p.m. at Beit Shmuel on December 19. Tickets are NIS 35 and can be obtained at 565-4333 or 620-3455/6. The evening also features musicians Eldad Levi and Baruch Emanuel Erdstein, and a Q&A session with Lieberman and Rabbi Gedaliah Gurfein after the screening. More information about the movie can be found at www.universalface.org.
The Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival runs from December 16-22 and features a huge variety of Jewish-themed films and performances.
For more details, see this week's Billboard section or visit www.jjff.org.il