Tikkun Olam through movies

Producer Ayelet Bacharach seeks to change perceptions of people with disabilities.

Ayelet Bacharach with disabled actor Beni Ofir at the Reframing Reality Film Festival (photo credit: BENI OFIR)
Ayelet Bacharach with disabled actor Beni Ofir at the Reframing Reality Film Festival
(photo credit: BENI OFIR)
The Jerusalem Cinémathèque was packed to the brim earlier this year when film producer Ayelet Bacharach moderated a session of the SHEKEL organization’s Reframing Reality Film Festival, featuring six disabled activists giving TED-like talks on their lives and dreams.
“I never dreamed of working in film,” says Bacharach, who has Cerebral Palsy and stutters. She tried to live a regular Israeli life, she says, volunteering as a clerk for a year in the Israel Air Force and a year in the Israel Navy and even went to the Far East after the army. But when she came back to Tel Aviv, her life changed dramatically.
“I went to watch a film at a festival in Mizpe Yericho, and a student came up to me and asked me to act in her film,” she says. “I laughed and said no, but luckily this student was persistent and I decided instead of just walking away to be polite and to say I’d think about it. I exchanged numbers and forgot about it, but this student didn’t, sent me a script by email and called me up a few days later and asked me if I’d read it.
“I lied  and said I had, but wasn’t interested. She was a nudnik and begged me, so I thought, ‘OK, I’ll do it. If it’s good, it’s my talents; if it’s bad, I had warned her.’”
Producer Israela Shaer Meoded confirms this story. “I was a film student at Tel Aviv University, working on my film, “No Need, No Pity,” Meoded says.“I came to Mitzpe Yericho with my family to watch a film and suddenly the vision for my main character appeared. That was Ayelet, and I knew I had to have her. The main character in my 18-minute film is a slightly disabled girl who falls in love with a man she meets in the National Insurance Institute office, but he isn’t interested in her, so she tries to seduce him.”
She adds, “It’s hard to believe that Ayelet had no acting experience. She aced it. Even in an intense love scene she made it seem so natural.
“I had an actress for the part but when I saw Ayelet, it was like my character from my film just appeared in front of me.”
“My film shows the portrayal and struggles I go through,” Meoded says. “We are all slightly disabled and must break barriers to go forward. Ayelet portrayed my feelings and expressions without me needing to coach her. It was phenomenal.”
The film premiered in 2012, and became an instant success at film festivals around the country. Bacharach was hooked. I wanted to work in the world of media and entertainment,” she says. “I joined several agencies and auditioned several times but nada, nothing.”
She was so determined she wrote her own script for a film, called “The line of equality.” which describes the complex relationship between a disabled woman and a non-disabled man, and the resulting relationship with his family.
Bacharach wanted the film to show people with disabilities in a way never seen before as strong, independent characters. She sent the script to the Israel Film Fund, and to her surprise, she received a grant to make the movie. She tells me that she then met the grants committee, which told her that the reason they accepted it was that she had been so impudent, they wanted to see how it would turn out.
The film later received a second grant, this time from the Gesher Film Fund. Ziv Naveh, CEO of the Gesher Film Fund, explains that its decision to give a grant to Ayelet Bacharach was because she had presented herself as “determined and focused.” “She doesn’t let anything stand in her way,” she says.
“Gesher’s focus is using films to change reality in Israeli society, believing that through vision, things can become a reality.The number of disabled people in the TV and film world is low, and we have taken it upon ourselves to change that. Gesher has undertaken to fund projects with an emphasis on disabilities and projects produced by disabled people. Ayelet is doing a film project to create films that will incorporate VR [virtual reality] technology, which really excites us, and we are looking forward to working with her on this project.”
After her first film, Ayelet started a year’s scriptwriting course at the Open University with the esteemed  scriptwriter Zvika Kerzner, who heads the screenwriting courses at the famous Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. He is  known for works such as “Atalia” (1984), “The Lover” (1985), and other well-known Israeli films.
Asked about Bacharach, Kerzner says he was impressed by his pre-course meeting with her, during which she told her life story. “Scriptwriting is finding uniqueness and bringing it to life,” Kerzner says. “I saw that trait with her and saw the potential. She brought a lot to the table and really contributed to the course. As someone who stutters, I really thought she wouldn’t want to speak, but she wasn’t embarrassed by her stutter. In fact, she just wouldn’t shut up.
He adds, with a chuckle, “It got to the point where her final work script, which I believe was based on herself, and is usually read out by the participant to the rest of the class, was read out by me instead because I wanted to stay on schedule. She contributed so much to the class and really presented a new outlook to our vision of film. She had no fear of criticism and would even criticize me.” 
Kerzner continues to follow Bacharach’s work on Facebook and is proud of her success. He supports her endeavors, including her latest campaign to get film producers to hire disabled people to portray their disabilities in film.
Many films have people who are not disabled playing disabled people, which in Bacharach’s eyes is wrong.
Dr. Emmanuel Schen of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design says he has discovered that people with disabilities are more capable of playing their own characters and publicly calls on casting agents to bear that in mind. He praises Bacharach’s work and explains how special she is. “She is an inspiration in her field,” he says.
Bacharach is definitely special as she went on to write and produce four more short films and is currently writing a long feature film. She says she dreams of a world where people with disabilities write and produce and act in films, and she’s working on a project to make films available to be experienced in virtual reality. She wants the world to see what people with disabilities can do.
Clara Feldman, CEO of the SHEKEL (an acronym for Community Services for People with Disabilities) organization, who ran the Reframing Reality festival, says, “Ayelet is a wonderful example of a person with disabilities who uses her skills and talent to advance others and show the world just how much people with disabilities have to offer Israeli society and culture. We saw the results of her relentless energy and determination at the innovative Ted-like event she produced and hosted this summer for SHEKEL’s 5th International Film Festival. The event provided a platform for filmmakers with disabilities. At SHEKEL, this is par for the course. Contrary to popular misconception, people with disabilities are not a ‘weak sector’ of the community. They are in fact both strong and able. They just have to be given a chance.”
The audience at the Jerusalem Cinémathèque broke out in loud applause when Bacharach concluded her event, but everyone knew she would be back with more films and more resilience as a disabled producer, an activist and a feminist, proclaiming, “We are one and we are capable!”