Streetwise in downtown Jerusalem

Ma’aleh film school graduate Matan Pinkas’s ‘Hahistadrut Street’ is about improving life in the area.

Hahistadrut Street (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hahistadrut Street
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As we all know, yet another round of Knesset elections will soon be upon us.
Meanwhile, Matan Pinkas held his own ballot exercise, which, although it pertained to a far more limited geographical area and far fewer people than the national population, was a highly important event – at least for Pinkas and his neighbors.
The result of Pinkas’s efforts to stir things up – and hopefully solve a few problems – in his own backyard can be seen in Hahistadrut Street, an intriguing and entertaining documentary he made, which will be shown, along with debut offerings from five other graduates of the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
As school head Netta Ariel notes, there is something of a recurring theme in all the alumni’s projects. “It was not planned, but this year’s films all have a lot to do with the younger generation, from documenting a Jerusalemite social activist to the soul-searching of a yeshiva student and a comedy about dating in the religious sector and a couple of young artists who want to lead a hermetic life in the desert.”
Pinkas says he had no grand design when he started making a fuss about the state of Hahistadrut Street and trying to get the locals interested in the welfare of the neighborhood. “I just wanted to inject some joy into our street,” says the first-time filmmaker. “We wanted to do something about the quality of life there.”
The use of the first person plural was not a slip of the tongue. Pinkas lived on Hahistadrut Street for three years and has been a social activist in the capital for some time. Much of his efforts to improve things have been undertaken as part of the Kama Sukar (How Much Sugar) group, which also includes performance artist Yuda Braun – a.k.a. The White Soldier – and Amit Hevroni and Nadav Ariel.
The modus operandi of Pinkas and the other artists included organizing impromptu tea parties and fashion shows on the street and distributing fliers about events they were putting on and about elections for the “official” street leader.
“At the end of the day, all we wanted to do was to feel at home on our own street,” says Pinkas.
Hahistadrut Street provides ample evidence that he achieved that – and then some. The film shows Pinkas getting out there to speak “to the people.” He approaches proprietors of businesses on the street, including one shopkeeper who says he has problems with people relieving themselves right into his store at night, and a highly disgruntled neighbor called Shosh who says she doesn’t want to be bothered by Pinkas but nevertheless pesters him with all sorts of gripes.
The most impressive part of the campaign is when Pinkas approaches the local taxi stand and talks to the tough-looking employees and their time-worn boss. He finds them to be a receptive audience and an earnest discussion about the ills of the neighborhood ensues.
Pinkas says he and his pals finished the movie, and the project as a whole, in an upbeat mood.
“Four years ago, as a young person and as a student here, there was a sense that everyone was leaving Jerusalem and that there was nothing to look for here.
That’s not the situation today, and not just because of things we have been doing. There is a young scene in Jerusalem too. Things are definitely looking up.”
Mind you, it wasn’t all smooth going and there was the odd run-in with the authorities, but even then Pinkas’s laissez-faire manner generally won out.
“People have been doing good things in Jerusalem for around five years now, and we started our thing on Hahistadrut Street from our balcony,” he says.
“We posted all sorts of signs outside – like a sort of real, tangible Facebook account – so that people living and working on the street, and people just passing through, could see them and get our messages.”
It worked well. “We put out a few signs which were pretty difficult to ignore,” he says. “We got press coverage and we wanted to generate personal interaction.
For example, one sign said: ‘Come up for coffee; how much sugar?’ which naturally meant that people would come upstairs to our apartment and we could meet them face to face. As we said that a few times a day, part of the sign became the name for our group.
It sort of rolled off the tongue easily.”
Another sign they put up had a more provocative message. It read: “Men, please pass through here in modest attire; women feel free.”
“That was a sort of response to the kind of signs you see up in places like Mea She’arim,” Pinkas observes, adding that there was no male chauvinistic intent to it. “The idea wasn’t to turn women into a sex object.
It was to give them a feeling of freedom – that they can dress how they want in the center of town.”
In addition to inviting passersby into their home, Pinkas and his pals set their domestic stall out in the street. “We took our living-room furniture outside and invited people to take part in tea parties,” he says. One of the participants in the alfresco gettogether was none other than Pinkas’s grandma, who originally had some problems with her grandson’s efforts to set his neighborhood to rights, imploring him, in quintessential Jewish mother style, not to get involved in other people’s problems and to instead just find himself a nice girl and settle down. But she, too, soon joined in the Kama Sukar fun.
The other films by the Ma’aleh graduates cover a wide canvas of topics and styles, and there are quite a few moving moments, and comic turns, in store for the Jerusalem Cinematheque audience on Wednesday. Hahistadrut Street will be shown, along with debut offerings from five other graduates of the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on December 26, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
For more information: 627-7366 and