'What makes us want to convert, to change? And what kind of changes are possible?"
These are the questions Maayan Amir hopes to explore as curator of the New Foundation for Cinema and TV's newest experimental film project, "Conversion- Change of Heart," a venture that aims to explore the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the role of conversion in modern culture.
The foundation will offer funding to selected filmmakers towards the making of 10-minute shorts on the subject. Nearly $100,000 will be spread among the artists chosen, Amir said.
The project commenced this week with a series of lectures exploring the notion of conversion across academic disciplines, such as art, literature, psychiatry, philosophy and history. The seminar, held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Monday night, was attended by roughly 200 people, including artists interested in submitting their film proposals to the foundation.
"We are flooded with 'pseudo conversions': 'become a singer,' 'become thin,' 'become a star.' Where are the origins of this fantasy to convert?," said Amir.
"The seminar on the one hand [explores] examples of the first conversions in history, and on the other hand look at different forms of secular conversions as they reflect in contemporary art and literature," she said. "We can't do anything without references."
Amir said she first became interested in the topic of conversion after taking a course on St. Paul the Apostle, a practicing Jew who became one of the first Christian missionaries.
Dr. Itzik Binmini, a lecturer from Tel Aviv University who spoke about Paul's biblical conversion at Monday's forum, said the New Testament story is part of the roots of Western culture, and can teach people the personal meaning of change in today's society.
"People think that if you explore internally you can be more enlightened, but that's not enough," Binmini said. "We have to put our world views next to one another, and examine the boundaries between our communities."
Amir said she believes experimental, independent film can better explore the concepts of modern-day conversions than more traditional mediums that "must consider ratings and give straight answers."
She said the concept of change is especially relevant to Israeli society, art and cinema "because of the situation here and because of the way we live."
The shorts will be distributed to television stations and film festivals worldwide. Project proposals should be submitted to the New Foundation offices in triplicate, no later than November 18.