Spiegel School grads release ‘The ‘Voice of Ahmad’

A SCENE FROM ‘I Am Ahmad.’ (photo credit: GAL ROMBACH)
A SCENE FROM ‘I Am Ahmad.’
(photo credit: GAL ROMBACH)
The Voice of Ahmad, which opens in theaters throughout Israel this week, is an anthology film by graduates of the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television that are reworkings of the 1966 short Israeli film, I Am Ahmad.
I Am Ahmad, which was made by Ram Loevy and Avshalom Katz and which is included in this anthology, was the first Israeli film to present an Arab who, as Noam Kaplan puts it in his short film, I Am Hummus, was “not a terrorist, he’s just an ordinary guy.”
The original black-and-white film, I Am Ahmad, follows an Arab construction worker in Tel Aviv as he muses about the lack of opportunity that has led him to this work and how living away from his village and among Jews makes him feel. It’s a gentle, beautifully photographed film and Ahmad Masrawa has real screen presence. It’s hard to understand today the controversy that the film generated when it was released. The 1966 film was like “a stab in the back of the nation,” recalls Loevy in the short film that is part of the anthology, I Am Ram Loevy by Doron Djerassi.
This project, which was curated by Renen Schorr, Sam Spiegel’s founding director, and Ayelet Mehahem, presents a fascinating snapshot of how Israeli-Arab relations have and haven’t changed over the years, and encourages viewers to look at people and aspects of life they would generally ignore. It is the third in a trilogy of re-imaginings of Israeli films by Sam Spiegel graduates and its release marks the 30-year anniversary of the school.
The first of the contemporary films, I Used to Be Zvi by David Ofek and Ayelet Bechar, is a compelling look at an experiment by Kibbutz Yakum that the original Ahmad was part of, where Arab youth in pre-1967 Israel were taken and educated on the kibbutz, taught Hebrew and included in the kibbutz work details. They were given Hebrew names and taught Israeli folk songs. “We believed wholeheartedly in the values of equality and sharing that were instilled in us and together we built the kibbutz,” says Masrawa. But that feeling of brotherhood evaporated when he tried to build kibbutzim for other Arabs and was surprised at first that he got no support from the kibbutz movement.
The second film, Sky of Concrete by Shadi Habib Allah, follows Masrawa today as he eulogizes a friend who died in a construction accident and explores the hopes and dreams of construction workers who have to contend with hazardous conditions and who dream that their children will have better lives. It’s a sad film that shows how little has changed for Israeli Arabs in the more than 50 years since the original release of Ahmad.
A third film that follows director Loevy today as he works on his 70th film, The Dead of Jaffa, offers a positive spin as he speaks about the formation of a joint Arab-Jewish film industry in Jaffa.
Kaplan’s I Am Hummus presents a challenge for the director as he tries to forge personal and professional relationships in his neighborhood on the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
Dan Geva’s impressionistic Ecclesiastes presents a vision of the prophet (played by Ashraf Barhom, who was the evil brother on the series Tyrant) as he walks through the beaches, shopping malls and construction sites of Tel Aviv today, set to a soundtrack of biblical verses. It may sound unbearably pretentious but it works well due to the beautiful cinematography.
The final film, the engaging, The Helsinki Accord by Mamdooh Afdile and Iddo Soskolne, tells the story of two friends, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who have left Israel for Finland, and joke about creative ways to solve the conflict. These include getting everyone – Israelis and Palestinians alike – to leave and then starting over in 100 years, and microdosing the water with LSD.
Since we’re not all going to move to Finland, we can enjoy the complexity of these filmmakers’ visions as they show a daily reality with much room for improvement and some glimmers of hope.