Lights, camera, Kotel

Filmmaker Susan Korda explores all aspects of Jerusalem in her next movie.

Filmmaker Susan Korda 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Filmmaker Susan Korda 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘I’m trying to use the magic of threes to explore Jerusalem,” says Susan Korda, a distinguished documentary film editor and director, who is here as a fellow of the Foundation for Jewish Culture of the American Academy in Jerusalem. She is also presenting her brilliant and moving autobiographical meditation on her family, One of Us, at the 15th Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs until December 6 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
The American Academy in Jerusalem (AAJ) is a 10-week fellowship for distinguished artists, architects and planners from abroad designed to strengthen the city of Jerusalem.
Speaking at the apartment in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood where she is living while she is on her fellowship, she explains the thought process behind her three-pronged approach to getting to know the city.
“I’m trying to avoid the obvious comparisons,” says Korda, who is not related to the famous filmmaking Korda family. “With documentary filmmaking, you say if it’s about one person, it’s a portrait. If it’s about two, it’s a comparison, but with three, you have space to explore.”
While working on her film, she is interviewing all kinds of Jerusalemites, including representatives of all three major religions, naturally.
“I try to find out about people’s dreams, fairy tales that have influenced them, superstitions, their favorite meals, jokes. Their favorite music is also a passion for me.”
Her subjects’ answers to these questions reveal a pathway into their souls that gives Korda a glimpse of who they really are, better than more conventional questions would, she feels.
“It’s a bit of a fishing expedition,” she says. “I felt that the images I would be drawn to are the images I am hearing from them.”
She was impressed by a metaphor she heard from the poet Michal Govrin. “She had this beautiful idea. She pointed out that the Old City is not the highest point in Jerusalem, that the rolling hills undulate toward the Old City and that the undulations remind her of a woman’s body, with the Temple Mount like a vagina. And there are three jealous men, the three religions, who all want to claim her as their own, like a lover. But she wants to be the woman who loves them all equally, like a mother.”
While this image may shock some and captivate others, an unconventional outlook comes naturally to Korda, a soft-spoken woman who is eager to learn more about Jerusalem and asks as many questions as she answers. Korda, who has taught editing to students at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, Jerusalem, was an editor on some of the most acclaimed and innovative documentaries of the past two decades, among them the groundbreaking documentary by Sandi Simcha Dubowski, Trembling Before G-d, about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews. She has also collaborated with Alan Berliner on several of his films, including his most recent, First Cousin Once Removed, about a poet struggling with dementia.
She detailed the pain of her own background in her 2000 documentary, One of Us, in which she explores the connections among her Holocaust survivor father, her tormented drug addicted brother, her often remote mother, and her sister, who has Down Syndrome and was institutionalized at birth, against the backdrop of a time Korda spent trying to make a film in Germany.
“Film for me is about the ability to take people out of their comfort zone,” says Korda, who has conflicting emotions about the country she is now making a film about. She first came to Israel when she was living and studying in Vienna for a two-week tour, and she was “put off by the blast of propaganda.” While “my heart and soul understands the need for Israel’s existence,” the presentations she got on that first visit reminded her of “the Soviet school of propaganda.”
But she has chosen to put her energy into understanding and documenting what she has found here on this visit to Jerusalem, in what she hopes will be a “wacky, counter-intuitive way.”