Silver screen temptation

The seventh Jerusalem Film Festival sheds new light on the capital. (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
With over 60 films and over a dozen special events including panel discussions, musical performances and theater productions, the seventh Jerusalem Jewish Film festival (Dec. 24-30) was more impressive and festive than ever. The premiere of The Bee Season, (dir., Scott McGehee, David Segal) and the screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's astonishing Everything is Illuminated (dir., Liev Schreiber) obviously caught the crowd's imagination, but there were also more obscure films from the Virgin Islands, Germany and even Albania that also drew attention. Special events included a anel discussion with the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, in which Sisai was screened, an evening with the Iraqi community and a panel discussion on Anti-Zionism as the New Anti-Semitism. Two specifically Jerusalem focused events caught my eye. One was a panel discussion entitled Jerusalem Between Myth and Reality. Historian and journalist Meron Benvenisti, journalist and public figure Geula Cohen, and writer Eli Amir (Farewell, Baghdad) along with Boris Maftsir, producer and director, were set to talk about the chasm between the Jerusalem of our dreams and the reality of our city. The event was meant to be punctuated with clips that showed Jerusalem in all its forms: dream-like, fanatical, miserable. All in all, it sounded ostensibly like a pretty interesting way to spend an hour and a half. Sadly, it didn't deliver. Geula Cohen turned up an hour late, which left three middle-aged, middle-class men on stage talking about their feelings on Jerusalem. It was neither exciting nor stimulating, and much of what was said was direly predictable. Everyone, including those on stage, seemed to be waiting for Geula. Someone behind me whispered to their partner, "and they take money for this?!" When Geula finally arrived (she was caught in traffic and had a bar-mitzvah to attend) she spiced things up a bit. This right-wing politician, Lehi fighter and public figure believed that all three religions could and would co-exist in Jerusalem. It was just a matter of time. No, she didn't agree with Benvenisti who argued that the city was already dead and had been so for many years. It was the myth that people cling to about Jerusalem that created this city, she argued, and continued to give it life. Producer and director Micha Shagrir, who had slunk in half way through and sat on the steps, quipped that he didn't agree with anything that anybody had said thus far. The clips screened were unremarkable. Much more interesting was Moments 2005-Jerusalem. Micha Shagrir produced, and 15 different directors showcased their work. In Romi and Jerusalem (dir., Omri Levi & Galit Klapfer), Romi's father films his four-year-old daughter's experience of Jerusalem Day at her pre-school. She is taught the song "Yerushalayim b'nuya l'talpiot" (Jerusalem is built as a fortress) and their teacher makes a model Western Wall for them to stick their wishes to. (What do four-year-olds ask for? "A REAL Barbie." "Chocolate." "Ice cream.") At the end of the day, even Romi's little sister knows the songs and the accompanying actions, but when asked what she wishes Jerusalem on its birthday, Romi is too tired to answer. What's unusual about this simple film is its delicacy. It never falls into the trap of being cynical or judgmental; it is simply melancholy and reflective. The animated short All About Danny and how he killed Ghandi (deir., Nir Matarasso) offered up another world altogether. This isn't about the murdered ex- Tourism Minister, but about the spiritual leader who appears in Jerusalem and lands up with Danny, a simple Jo Shmo, as his tour guide. Danny tries to be considerate, but doesn't exactly get it right. He takes him to the Western Wall (a recurring symbol in a surprising number of these shorts) "for the religious-spiritual thing, like" but Ghandi just wants tea. He takes him to the mall, to people watch and buy "authentic" shwarma, only to remember that Ghandi is vegetarian. Finally, they go home, and he places his guest in front of the TV - where Ghandi (the film) is being screened. In a hilarious mis-en-scene, Danny realizes that Ghandi dies in the movie, and maybe its not such great viewing. Unfortunately, he realizes a little too late, and finds Ghandi dead. The whole movie is related by Danny's pet dog. In the animated Jacob's Wall (dir., Daniel Sivan) Jacob, a chain-smoking, beer-swilling numbskull finds out that his grandmother owns the area of the Western Wall. This makes him pretty popular with the press, pretty unpopular with the religious residents of the city (the fact that he decides to use the space to put up a huge poster of a near-naked man in phylacteries doesn't help) and a pariah in his own family. The whole short is quite farcical, but touches on some serious issues: Who does the Western Wall belong to? Whose desires are accommodated and whose are neglected in this city? Is Jerusalem simply a piece of real estate? In A Trip, (dir., Hadas Rehes) the ugly face of prejudice and racism is revealed under a thin veneer of pluralism and tolerance. A couple take a tourist on a tour around the old city. "This is the best humous in Israel," they tell him in one of the Muslim quarter restaurants. They are polite to the owners, show their guest how to "wipe" humous, and move on. When it turns out that the girl has misplaced her wallet, they return to the restaurant. She screams at the owners and staff that she will not leave until they find her purse. The scene is extremely ugly. They suggest she empty her bag. "Do you think I'm a moron?" she shouts, emptying her bag. The wallet falls out. She is sheepish but doesn't apologize. They decide to order two boxes of humous to take-out, by way of reparation. Her partner, (embarrassed and silent throughout the scene) throws an apology over his shoulder as they leave. Until now, the hand-held camera has been in the couple's hands. This scene is viewed through the tourist's perspective. For me, however, the most touching piece was undoubtedly My Fair Dad. (dir., Daniel Avitzur) A daughter makes a trip to the shuk for the first time in a decade to speak to her father, a stall owner, about the shame he - and she - hold for his profession. The honesty, warmth and modesty that characterizes the father shines out, and the respect with which his colleagues treat him is apparent. Now in her thirties, his educated daughter would like to think that she accepts her father together with his profession. But her father still harbors shame and believes that his daughter's future in-laws, whoever they will be, will be embarrassed about her working-class roots. He isn't even comfortable drinking coffee in fellow bastioner Mizrahi's Hakol Le'ofeh in the market. "I'm not a caf type," he argues. The film is testimony to Jerusalem's continuing class-divide, something that goes way beyond financial solvency. The shorts demonstrated the complexity, variety and infinite creativity with which the city is experienced by those who live in it. The whole screening was less than an hour but the diversity of the films and their sheer brilliance was often astounding... as well as infinitely thought provoking.