Big-screen issues

Zooming in on the SHEKEL Movies Create Reality film festival

Scene from ‘Bipolarized,’ which raises disconcerting issues about the global pharmaceutical industry (photo credit: PR)
Scene from ‘Bipolarized,’ which raises disconcerting issues about the global pharmaceutical industry
(photo credit: PR)
There are various ways of getting your message out there to the public at large. An entertaining and eye-opening movie format qualifies as one of the more efficient and consumer-friendly ways of achieving acrossthe- board recognition when spreading one’s word.
Clara Feldman certainly goes along with that ethos, as CEO of the SHEKEL (Community Services for People with Special Needs) organization for the past 25 years. Based in Jerusalem, SHEKEL provides services for some 8,000 people with special needs in an effort to enable them to live full and independent lives. For the past four years, Feldman has helped to spearhead SHEKEL’s annual Movies Create Reality film festival, which this year will take place at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque October 25-29, in conjunction with New York disabilities film festival Reelabilities.
The festival program incorporates works that address numerous aspects of the lives of people with special needs, from how they cope on a dayto- day basis, to the emotional baggage that comes with being different from able-bodied and able-minded people and how society reacts to that, to the wider – and possibly nefarious – implications of medication prescribed to help people with emotional issues keep their lives on course and manageable.
The 21 works lined up over the four days address a broad range of obstacles and events that are experienced by people with physical and emotional disabilities of which society, as a whole, may not be aware. The movies come from all over the world, including contributions from France, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Israel.
Rona Sofer’s moving short A Ginger Sheep, for example, takes an unflinching look at how we relate to people who display a physicality different from the “normal” and “socially acceptable.” The young heroine, prior to being severely injured in an accident, was a stellar graffiti artist.
Towards the end of the 12-minute movie, Sofer expresses a fervent wish that she should have the courage simply to be herself.
Sofer was, herself, involved in a horrific road accident in her teens, that after a lengthy stay in hospital left her with mobility challenges and damaged vocal chords. “A few years ago I directed a film, as part of my studies at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School,” says Sofer. “It was a documentary about disabled people and sex called Lav Davka (Not Necessarily).” Not just a worthy piece of footage, it also helped Sofer along the road to emotional rehabilitation.
“The film opened the way for me to understand myself as a girl with a disability, but also with many positive attributes, and also as a way to understand the world in which I live. So, for me, A Ginger Sheep is a kind of continuation of an odyssey in which I am exposed to the world, even if, in the movie, I used Viola as the main character, to show a particular part of me.” The Viola in question is amputee actress-singer Viola Yamit Gutman.
Sofer says she traveled a long and arduous road in order to again be able to function – and even make progress – in the outside world, and that she had a strong support group around her. She also notes that her convalescence and rehabilitation were a learning curve for everyone involved. “My friends and family grew together with me, through the trauma and the pain, but also into the victory when I managed to achieve rehabilitation against all the odds the doctors gave me, and subsequently to finish a master’s degree in film. My friends and family never gave up on me, despite the fact that I spent three years at a rehabilitation center in Jerusalem where I learned to do everything anew – to walk, to breathe, to speak…” Like the main character in A Ginger Sheep, Sofer says that in addition to being physically aware of her disabilities, she also constantly monitors the way people around relate to her. “I think I have an ongoing dialogue with the world, with regard to the way it looks at me, and vice versa,” she states. “Are people staring at me because I have long legs or because I use a walking stick? Because I am pretty or because I have a scar? Do they offer a helping hand because they pity me or because they want to get closer to me? Is it difficult for them to understand me because I whisper, or because I say things that contravene social conventions? These are questions to which I will never know the answer.”
Sofer’s speech impediment challenge is, surely, exacerbated by the fact that she lives in a country in which one often has to rise above the generally vociferous social milieu to make any headway. Surprisingly, Sofer notes that her seeming drawback often works in her favor. “I have discovered that my weak voice forces people to listen to me, and not just to hear me. When you whisper in such a loud country it obliges people to draw closer to me and to listen to what I am saying, and to reduce their own volume level in order to hear me.”
That sounds like quite a challenge for the average Israeli. “Yes, I admit that sometimes it is a bit of a bind on people,” she continues, including on people close to her. “At the Shabbat table, when everyone is talking loudly, I prefer not to talk, otherwise everyone has to be quiet and say ‘Shhh, Rona has something to say.’ You learn to consider your words.” That, says Sofer, is an important lesson.
“You learn to understand that isn’t important to say everything and, on the flip side, that if you have something to say you have to stick to your guns, and to insist people hear you.”
Besides getting her own story across, Sofer hopes A Ginger Sheep, and the SHEKEL film festival, help to make society more aware of people with special needs. “I think that exposure to the subject of disabilities is extremely important, to make people less wary of the issue. Festivals like this help to make the subject “more accessible” also to people who were not previously aware of it.”
There is a semantic issue here too. “What would you say is the opposite of disabled? Healthy? Normal? No! The opposite of ‘disabled’ is ‘not disabled.’ We have to break out of being cloistered in ‘the disabled community’ and show the world that people with disabilities are not so different from them, and that the difference is even quite cool when you allow people the space they need.”
Other standouts in the Movies Create Reality lineup include Canadian filmmaker Ross McKenzie’s highly emotive and illuminating Bipolarized, which throws up disturbing issues vis-à-vis the global pharmaceutical industry, and Touch of Light from China, about a blind pianist and his struggles as an artist and within the public domain. The protagonist of the film, pianist Jung-Chi Chang, will be a guest of the festival.
For tickets and more information: *9377 and