Fat Cow Lean Cow.
(photo credit: Meni Elias)
‘When I saw the three people sitting at this one table, I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I knew I had to make a movie about it” says Meni Elias, director of the acclaimed documentary Fat Cows, Lean Cows.
The film will be screened Thursday as part of the Cinema Meets Reality film series, sponsored by Bank Benleumi, designed to spotlight films made in the periphery of the country. It will be shown free of charge in Tel Aviv at the bank’s Culture and Community Auditorium, 42 Rothschild Boulevard, at 8 p.m.
The three men whose casual conversation so impressed Elias were Yossi, an elderly Israeli who had worked at the dairy on Moshav Nir Israel in the Negev for 50 years; his longtime laborer Ibrahim, a middle-aged Beduin from Gaza who had worked with him at the dairy for 26 years; and Eddie, a younger Thai worker, who had worked there for 13 years.
Elias, who wanted his children to grow up in a rural setting, had just moved to the moshav. Realizing that the three of them together represented a kind of microcosm of much of contemporary Israel, he went about the delicate task of convincing them to appear in a documentary.
“At first they were suspicious. They knew each other so well and they wouldn’t let anyone else get close. I started to come every day, and then they agreed. After a while they wouldn’t notice the camera,” Elias says. “I couldn’t believe the way they spoke with each other. It was very visual. They spoke in gestures.”
This moving and engrossing film has been shown all over the world, including the Woodstock International Film Festival in New York, Hamburg International Film Festival and Gotham Film Festival NY, where it was awarded an Honorable Mention.
Due to Yossi’s failing health and the poor economic outlook for small agricultural ventures, Elias knew he didn’t have any time to waste when he started the project. “I knew, because of the agricultural reforms, that the dairy wouldn’t last long,” he said.
It has since closed, and Yossi has died. Ibrahim has returned to Gaza, where he struggles to find work. Elias says that he would come back to Israel if he could. Eddie has gone back to Thailand, where he now runs his own dairy.
Elias has stayed in touch with Ibrahim and Eddie. “The movie was shown recently at an assisted-living facility near Netanya and a woman said, ‘It shouldn’t be called Fat Cows, Lean Cows, it should be called ‘Three Hearts.’ She asked where the milk from the dairy went and I told her it went to Tara.
She said, ‘I drink that every day and I never knew where it came from. Now I know why it tastes so sweet.’ I called Ibrahim and told him that and it made him happy.”
Elias works much of the time in Tel Aviv and is happy going back and forth between the country and the city.
“I don’t really feel that the moshav is the periphery because it’s 35 minutes from Tel Aviv. People in Tel Aviv feel like Holon is on the periphery,” says Elias, laughing.
Bank Benleumi’s Cinema Meets Reality festival is just part of the bank’s initiative to encourage and highlight the development of culture outside large, urban areas, and to create a national dialogue by bringing that culture to Tel Aviv. There will be free concerts, theater and art events in the future, also at the Culture and Community Auditorium in Tel Aviv. The film program will resume in October.
For more information and to reserve seats for the Fat Cows, Lean Cows screening, call (03) 513-0001. There is also information on the Bank Benleumi website.