Unrestricted viewing

The third annual SHEKEL film festival features an array of movies focusing on people with disabilities.

American archer Matt Stutzman (photo credit: Courtesy)
American archer Matt Stutzman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The lineup for the upcoming third annual SHEKEL Reframing Reality International Film Festival aims to change the way people think about and see the disabled – on the big screen and off.
SHEKEL – Community Services for People with Special Needs was founded in 1979 to help people with disabilities enjoy a better quality of life and find their place in society. The nonprofit organization provides support for the disabled in numerous areas, including a child development center in east Jerusalem, extra services for children in special-education kindergartens, and a wide range of care and support for homeless people. It also maintains a network of around 80 rental apartments in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva, where some 250 adults with intellectual and functional challenges live.
The four-day festival, which begins on Monday, boasts a selection of evocative movies – from documentaries to feature films – that focus on people with disabilities, spanning a broad spectrum of countries and cultures. There will also be a short movie competition, as well as discussions about some of the movies and the message they are trying to convey to the general public.
At first glance, the movies’ content may appear to be designed to move the viewer, but not necessarily to entertain.
Nonetheless, while cinematheque audiences will indeed likely leave the screenings with food for thought and empathy for the characters, most of the films also have plenty of humor – selforiented and otherwise – and a feel-good vibe mixed in with the obvious challenges the subjects face.
“My entire objective in choosing these films was to draw people in,” says film festival artistic director Yoad Ben- Yossef. “I was wary of two film festival syndromes, and particularly those which take place at the cinematheque. One is the syndrome of the avid cinematheque goer, and I am one of them. Let me see a film from Thailand or Kazakhstan and I’ll be happy. But I know that most people aren’t like that. And I was also wary of showing films that are only for those who are interested in watching stuff about people with disabilities and with special needs. It is a select group of people, and their relatives and friends.”
Ben-Yossef wants the audience as engrossed in the on-screen action as if the viewers were watching a garden-variety feature offering.
“When you watch a movie you often identify with the main character, and that’s what I want the festival audiences to do,” he continues. “In the case of these movies, the main character happens to be missing an arm, or is blind, or has no legs.
But I want the people who come to the festival to identify with them, regardless of any disability they happen to have.”
Among the offerings is French documentarist Matthieu Bron’s engaging film Body and Soul, which focuses on three young disabled people living in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Each of them faces a constant uphill struggle just to manage the basic functions of everyday life. Yet primarily by dint of willpower, and with a little help from those close to them, they not only get on with their lives, they also attain impressive artistic and other achievements.
Then there is My Way to Olympia by German director Niko von Glasow, which is replete with humor and is just about as far as one can get from a film that appeals to the viewer’s sense of pity.
The documentary follows the physical and mental preparations of a number of athletes from various countries ahead of the 2012 London Paralympics.
Von Glasow opens his account in a provocative manner, by telling a severely handicapped sportsman about his distaste for sports of all kinds. The 53-year-old director, who was born with very short arms, visits American archer Matt Stutzman, who was born with a similar defect. The similarity between their physiques makes the almost superhuman strength and dexterity Stutzman has achieved in his feet and legs all the more breathtaking – particularly in light of von Glasow’s inability even to lift the specially adapted bow with his own foot.
There is also a powerful feature film in the festival lineup called Princess, by Finnish director Arto Halonen. While there are some harrowing elements to the movie, there are plenty of comical and uplifting parts as well. And if the Belgian festival opener Hasta La Vista (also known as Come As You Are) doesn’t move the members of the audience as it appeals to their sense of humor, it’s hard to say what will.
The homegrown contributions to the festival roster include Helem Krav (Battle Fatigue), director Yoel Sharon’s 1988 drama based on the emotional scars that two IDF soldiers endured in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. The theme is somewhat autobiographical, as Sharon himself was wounded on the last day of the war and became paralyzed from the waist down. He will also present a master class about how to use movie directing as a means of empowerment and selftherapy, and there will be a screening of his latest documentary, A Battle Too Far, about his IDF unit and what happened to his surviving comrades-in-arms after the Yom Kippur War.
Other festival standouts include a tribute to veteran actor-director Assi Dayan, and a screening of the Hahaim Kishmua (Life as a Rumor) TV documentary series about him and his family – particularly his father, Moshe Dayan. There will also be some musical entertainment courtesy of singer-songwriter Ariel Horowitz, and a trilogy of British short films – Chasing Cotton Clouds; You, Me; and The End – that focus on the deaf.
The festival will take place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque from September 30 to October 3. For more information: (02) 565-4333, 050-882-2272 or www.shekel.org.il.