High spirits in Tel Aviv

Over the three days of this year’s esoteric Spirit Film Festival, a wide swath of cinema punters should find plenty to attract them.

Tibetan Child 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tibetan Child 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
By his own admission, Harsita Eshel has cast his net pretty wide. “You’ve got to draw people in to what you have to offer,” says the 50-something artistic director of the fourth annual Spirit Film Festival, which will take place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque between October 14 and October 16.
Mind you, adopting a somewhat eclectic approach is not necessarily a matter of watering down the end product.
Over the three days, a wide swath of cinema punters should find plenty to “draw them in.”
There are items that should appeal to Israelis who have paid their backpacking dues in the Far East and South America, traversing some spiritual expanses in the process, as well as to people looking for insight into domains they would not normally encounter. And there is some plain old cinematic entertainment.
The latter category includes a couple of movies that are sure to pack ’em in – the Exile on Main Street documentary and Woody Allen’s brand-new release You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
The documentary tells the fascinating story of the making of the eponymous Rolling Stones record, first released in 1972. Eshel – whose adopted first name means “a life full of happiness” – says the inclusion of the Stones movie is not just about appealing to middle-aged rock fans who can still remember those halcyon end-of-the- Sixties days, or even to youngsters who dig their parents’ music.
“Everything in the festival program has some spiritual element to it, and that includes people making changes in their life. This was a very special Rolling Stones album, and it captures the band at a crossroads in their lives and their work.”
The record certainly caused a stir when it was released.
Despite an initial lukewarm reception from many music critics of the day, it made it to No. 1 in many places around the world.
THE “EXILE” in the documentary’s title refers to the members of the group, who had to flee Britain at the time to get out of paying a draconian 90-percent tax rate on their income.
The making of the record was certainly an unusual process, being done primarily in the dank basement of a villa Keith Richards rented in the South of France, with the Stones’ mobile recording unit truck parked outside.
Possibly the most appealing aspect of the documentary is, as Mick Jagger put it earlier this year in an interview with Larry King: “I wanted the audience to feel like they were around in 1972… and I think you do get the vibe of the times.”
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was first shown to a positive response at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and went on general release in the United States only a couple of weeks ago. As is his wont, Allen digs deep into human frailties and the transience of human relationships.
The characters in the movie all make life-changing decisions; but not all is well that ends well.
Breath Made Visible, made by Ruedi Gerber, is one of the most emotive and uplifting documentaries of recent years. It tells the story of the long life and rich body of work of California-based veteran modern dance artist, choreographer and teacher Anna Halprin.
Now 90 years old, for the last seven-plus decades Halprin has defied logic, the Establishment, conformism, traditionalism, racism and just about every ism going.
She has retained her vibrancy into advanced old age and continues to teach from her California home, near San Francisco, and will attend the Tel Aviv screening.
Besides her impending visit here, there is another footnote to the Halprin-Israel connection, as her architect husband Larry designed the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem’s East Talpiot neighborhood.
The documentary title refers to Halprin’s definition of dance – if, that is, her interpretation of the art form could be described in such easily understandable words.
It appears that she has always been intent on doing her own thing, even if it got her into trouble. In the late Sixties, for example, a show she put on in New York which included one scene with nudity got her banned from the Big Apple for many years. The same production, by the way, was enthusiastically received in Sweden at the time.
Having triumphed over cancer at the age of 50, Halprin stopped performing in public and began devoting her working hours exclusively to teaching.
She crossed political-racial lines in Los Angeles in the Sixties, bringing white and black dancers together. She was also an early pioneer in the expressive arts healing movement and has led numerous collaborative dance programs with terminally ill patients, based on her belief in the connection between movement and the healing power of dance.
Halprin will also lead a workshop at the film festival, which should be a rare experience.
This festival has certainly come along in leaps and bounds.
“We started out seven years ago with occasional screenings at the Cinematheque of films with spiritual content,” explains Eshel. “The whole thing grew, and we got support from the Municipality of Tel Aviv, and now we get between 7,000 and 10,000 people coming to the festival each year.”
Not bad going for a somewhat esoteric event taking place – to borrow a sentiment from the Stones documentary – on Main Street, Tel Aviv.
“We specifically wanted the festival to be in Tel Aviv,” Eshel continues. “It would be easier to bring people to the films at New Age events like the Shantipi Festival, and suchlike. But we wanted to offer people who might not normally have access to, or even look for, such material the chance to learn about new things.
“Most of the people who come to the festival are aged between 20 and 70, so the films obviously appeal to a wide age group, and to professional and well-educated people.”
Eshel has evidently done good work, building up the event up from nothing.
“This is the biggest film festival of its kind in the world,” he says. “There was nothing like this before.
If, for example, you went into The Third Ear [CD and DVD store in Tel Aviv], you wouldn’t find a separate section for these kinds of movies. The genre simply does not exist there.”
Elsewhere on the film roster are items that investigate confluences of East and West in, for example, Blessings, which follows the experiences of a group of American women who spend time with nuns in Tibet.
Sex, Magic Manifesting Maya takes an entertaining looks at spiritual and physical healing through the Buddhist-Hindu tantra belief system which incorporates sexual healing.
The pure entertainment section of the festival also features the Australian Bran Nue Dae, based on a theatrical production set in the Sixties. The film follows the fortunes of a teenager on the run from a priesthood school and an itinerant as they make their way across the Outback.
There is also a premiere slot at the festival featuring A Secret Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, about a woman who decides to embark on a journey through the multi-layered religious life of the capital.
Meanwhile, 2012: Time for Change should provide plenty of food for thought. It is a feature-length documentary film based in part on the books of renowned New York journalist-author Daniel Pinchbeck.
The film presents a radical positive alternative to apocalyptic doom and gloom and features a gilded cast of the likes of rock megastar Sting, iconic film director David Lynch and legendary Brazilian musician and sometime politician Gilberto Gil.
Besides the screen entertainment, there will be panel discussions, seminars, lectures, workshops and several art exhibitions over what appear to be a packed and definitively spiritually uplifting and highly entertaining three days.
For more information: www.spiritfestival.co.il For tickets: (03) 606-0800 or www.cinema.co.il