The Arabic movie returns

"We will show movies from a range of genres,” says cinematheque manager Roni Mahadav-Levin. “They will enable the audience to see some of the diverse cinematic work coming from our region.”

Wajib - The Wedding Invetation  (photo credit: PYRAMID INTERNATIONAL FILMS)
Wajib - The Wedding Invetation
Hands up, anyone who has been in Israel long enough to remember the Friday afternoon Arabic movie.
Back in the good old days, when the material side of life here was far less developed, when people started work at 7 a.m., and were safely tucked up in bed by 10 p.m., shortly after the end of the Mabat daily news broadcast, there was but one state TV channel. In certain parts of the country, and at various times of the day, you could catch a few shows on Jordan TV or METV from Lebanon, but, basically, all the stuff put out by Channel 1 got a close to 100% rating.
Hence, as a new oleh, I would find myself settling down to my black-and-white set, post-sponga and weekly trip to the shuk, to try to follow the story line of some piece of celluloid from “the other side.” That was despite the fact that my command of Hebrew still left something to be desired; so, more often than not, I didn’t manage to read the subtitles before they switched. Still, even though I didn’t always get finer points of the unfolding tale, it became something of a weekly ritual, as a precursor to the Lord’s rest day.
Now the Jerusalem YMCA and Jerusalem Cinematheque, with the support of the Jerusalem Foundation, are looking to revive the intercultural zeitgeist of yesteryear, with their The Friday Arabic Movie Returns series, whereby the public can watch movies from some of our neighbors one Friday a month, with the venue alternating between the two venerated Jerusalem institutions. Each slot in the new series will kick off at 12 noon, with patrons invited to tuck into hummus and kanafeh, while a DJ does his or her thing in the background, with the screenings scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
LIKE HUMMUS and music, the Friday afternoon Arabic movie was a common denominator between many Israelis, regardless of religion or ethnic backdrop.
“As a child, it was a time the whole family waited for,” recalls YMCA CEO Rana Fahoum. “Every Friday afternoon we’d all gather in the living room, in front of the TV, and we’d watch the movie.
“Back then, we weren’t aware that it was an experience shared by Jews and Arabs alike.”
She is looking to revive that sense of unity, at least in terms of choice of entertainment. “Now, together with the cinematheque, we are trying to revive the nostalgic experience, and also to introduce the younger generation to it. They didn’t experience it themselves. They only know about it from stories.”
The Arabic movie was a permanent fixture on the one and only state television channel, from the station’s inception in the late 1960s, through to the early 1990s, and took on cult status. Its place in evolving Israeli folklore was so treasured that the broadcasting slot survived all the regional wars of those years.
When olim came here from Arab countries, they were strongly encouraged to speak Hebrew, as Arabic was considered the language of the enemy. The same happened with the music brought here by the likes of the al-Kuwaiti brothers, who were venerated across the Arab world, and particularly by King Faisal of Iraq, who held them in high esteem. The siblings and their Sephardi counterparts had to mostly make do with performing in small venues, and there was just one hour a week devoted to Arabic music on Kol Yisrael radio. Somehow, the weekly celluloid TV offering escaped that fate.
While the original offerings were generally melodramatic, formulaic affairs, with the story line normally following the same tried and trusted plot, which generally involved some shady romantic tryst or other, the YMCA-cinematheque program is designed to set the artistic bar several notches higher. The curtain-raiser provides proof of the series’ intent.
First up is Wajib – The Wedding Invitation, a Palestinian, French, German, Colombian, Norwegian, Qatari and United Arab Emirates co-production, starring Mohammed Bakri and Saleh Bakri, and directed by Annemarie Jacir. Jacir has been working as an independent filmmaker since 1998 and has won a slew of international awards for her work, and her 2012 film, When I Saw You, was in The Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2013 Oscars.
The cinematheque website describes the film as “a road movie that is also an intimate and precise family drama.”
“We will show movies from a range of genres,” says cinematheque manager Roni Mahadav-Levin. “They will enable the audience to see some of the diverse cinematic work coming from our region.”
According to Mahadav-Levin, film buffs and anyone interested in life across our borders will get some quality fare for their NIS 40 tickets.
“We are looking to screen the best Arabic-language movies made in the last few years in Palestine and around the Arab world,” he notes. “Filmmaking in the Middle East is expanding, and movies from Arabic-speaking countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon, take part in the most important international festivals.”
All movies will be in Arabic and have English subtitles.
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