The socially conscious Israeli filmmaker

This year's crop of Ma'ale film school graduates tackles touchy topics.

By BETH GOTTFRIED
September 26, 2005 20:21

 
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When asked what she has learned from working on her first two films, Elkie Hershberg, a graduate of Ma'ale film school, confidently replies, "Hard work pays off." Indeed for the 25-year-old who grew up in Safed and dreamed of one day becoming a writer, filmmaking was not an obvious choice. This aspiration quickly evolved when Elkie was introduced to some Ma'ale professors while attending a college outside of Tel Aviv. From there, she was determined to attend the school in Jerusalem; perhaps not the most predictable ending for a girl who grew up in a religious background. Elkie is the only of her classmates to produce two complete short films for her senior project - Tainted, a narrative about a young woman who is sent to a home for pregnant women who are not married and First Time Home, a documentary chronicling her first year of marriage. Both of her projects deal with themes relevant to women (marriage, pregnancy, separation from family). And while Elkie may not be intentionally creating a stir, Tainted deals with very taboo subject, not readily discussed in religious or even secular Israel. Films that center around women are not unique to Elkie's work. Many of her Ma'ale classmates (the majority of which are women) have produced films that deal with women's issues within the context of orthodoxy. But as Chana Pinchasi, Ma'ale's spokesperson points out, part of the appeal of these films are their universal bent. Whether it is a woman who worries her husband might be gay because he does not know how to have sex with her, (The First Time, Chen Galon Klien) or a tale of three sisters, struggling with family pressures and the burden of being individuals within a communal context (Shabbos Mom, Inbal Namdar), these films transcend a cultural gap. Incidentally, Klien's film was screened at the Haifa Film Festival and at the Women's film Festival in Rehovot, while Namdar's film was shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival. While this year's female filmmakers brought serious women's struggles to the forefront, their male collegues also broached heavy hitting topics. Ohad Domb's The Ranch was the first completed project of this year's graduating Ma'ale class. It was also the only film to be screened at the Knesset. Because of its political bent, the film has garnered much attention from both the Right and the Left, neither of which wholly identify with it. The "orange" film, as some have coined it, is at heart a human interest story "about the faces behind the stories that make the headlines," asserts Domb. "It is about a father and son and their right to live in Eretz Israel." While Domb shys away from politics, he admitted that the film's desired intent is "to stop your life for 5 minutes, make you think, feel, rile you up, get you angry." All this leads to discussion. Going forward, Domb, a native of Efrat, is now working on a documentary that follows a family over the course of 6-days during the Disengagement, to their resettlement, and documents their lives throughout their first year after re-settling. He hopes that this full-length documentary will convey that these people should not be forgotten. In addition to this feature, Domb, is working on a narrative about a teenage boy, a year after the Disengagement. Clearly, while he might not have a political agenda, one cannot help but feel that Domb feels a sense of responsibility to these settlers and has emerged from the crowd of this year's graduates as the voice of the Gaza settlers. Currently, The Ranch is being subtitled in several languages and being submitted to more festivals abroad. At 11, Ben Katz's family moved to Israel. From that point on, he became obsessed with films as a means of bridging the cultural gap, "When you watch a film and see other characters feel alienated or different, you can relate to them." Besides the obvious language barrier, there was also a sense of isolation within the context of a foreign culture. Born of these issues, Katz's main character in his debut film is an eighteen-year-old religious boy torn between a militaristic world and a rock band. While Katz certainly identifies with his character, and pulls intrinsically for his material, he is not afraid to pay homage to many other famous directors, who have influenced him, such as Robert Altman, the Coen Brothers, and Martin Scorsese. Katz has already started work on two more features. The first, Yiddish Club, is intended more comedic relief and is a spoof of Fight Club. The second film is a more serious film, an adaptation of the biblical sacrificing of Isaac, hitting home the importance of the father/son bond. Both Domb and Katz place a significant emphasis on the father/son relationship and the inherent generation gap that pulls the two apart. This year's Ma'ale graduates exude a social conscience and maturity that transcend their years. Given this, the future of the Israeli film industry holds a lot of promise in fostering a society with a greater social consciousness.

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