Film for change

The Social Film Festival will take place in Lod from October 23 to 26.

Avishai Ben Baruch: Looking to generate ripples across the social strata spectrum. (photo credit: AVISHAI BEN BARUCH)
Avishai Ben Baruch: Looking to generate ripples across the social strata spectrum.
(photo credit: AVISHAI BEN BARUCH)
Oscar Wilde may have contended that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” but, as any self-respecting documentarist will tell you, you can do a pretty good job at presenting street level reality, with little in the way of frills, with a convincing piece of video film. Avishai Ben Baruch is looking to take that philosophy a notch further with the Social Film Festival which will take place, in Lod from October 23 to 26.
Actually, Ben Baruch is not playing a guessing game when he contends that screening films about all sorts of social and other pressing issues can make a difference. This is the third edition of the festival, and the man who conceived the event says the proof of the change-generating pudding has been there from the start. He also notes that his brainchild was a natural extension of his own career path. “It comes straight out of my own background,” he says. “When I thought of setting up a festival, I didn’t think of having a music or dance program, because that’s not what I do. I know cinema. I studied film at Sapir College, and I make films and TV series.” Ben Baruch’s latest project is nearing completion. “I am in the final stages of a documentary about Ethiopians in Israel over the last 35 years. The Jewish community in Atlanta [Georgia] funded the film and it will be shown there. It’s in English. We’ll also have a screening in Israel.”
Lior Benisti is the festival director, and he also plays an important role in Lod’s social and cultural fabric, as head of the local Young Adults’ Center, the facility that helped to make the festival a tangible reality. “Lod has a vibrant and special arena of activity,” says Benisti, “which reflects the city’s multicultural mosaic. The festival serves as a display window for the beautiful side of Lod, as a multicultural creative city.” Benisti is also keen for ambitious locals to get their foot on their first professional rung. “The festival is also an opportunity for young people in Lod to meet with leading members of the film industry, to get to know new fields and, most of all, to strengthen their belief in themselves, and their ability to generate genuine change, in Lod and elsewhere.”
The program includes works in Arabic, Amharic, French and English, and takes in features, documentaries and children’s movies. The thematic purview covers women’s issues, special needs, honor killings, matters of ethnicity, all of which could be defined as pertaining to the micro level of daily existence, while the macro domain is referenced in former US vice president Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, about the disastrous effects of global warming, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power.
The seed for the festival was sown around three years ago when Ben Baruch and Benisti spent some time chewing the cud. “It was one night – the Young Adults’ Center had just been opened – and we talked about how to change a city’s image,” Ben Baruch recalls. In the case of Lod it was something that begged to be addressed. “If I walked down a street and asked 20 people what they knew about Lod, they’d say two things – drugs and crime,” he says. “I told Lior that, from my experience, we need to establish some event which will get people to identify the city through that.
“Just look at Sderot,” he continues. “When people imagine Sderot they think of either of the Kassam rockets or the Cinemas South Film Festival. I thought, Lod is in the center of the country. There are film festivals in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, let’s have a film festival in Lod, but not any old festival. Let’s have a festival of social films which engage in social issues that relate to Israel.”
Ben Baruch was just as keen to keep the momentum going, to try to trigger social change by keeping people engaged, away from the screening venue too. “We wanted to look at what happens after the film is over,” he explains. “We didn’t want people to come to the festival, watch the film and then just go home. We said there would be some kind of activity, before or after the screening – it could be a discussion with the filmmaker, or some panel discussion with experts in the field to which the film relates, or maybe some kind of hands-on activity in the lobby, before the film. It wasn’t just about the film but also about processing the subject matter.
“What is special about this town is because of the 10 years during which there was no mayor here,” Ben Baruch says. “At that time, lots of students moved to Lod, and there were a great number of social bodies and organizations that emerged. Lod has almost every kind of [social] organization imaginable. We looked at that, and we thought there are all these organizations that are trying to bring about change. Let’s talk about change.”
It looks like Ben Baruch is advocating doing away with official municipal bodies and letting the people determine the way their town works. But that is not the case. While applauding the efforts of grassroots ventures, Ben Baruch feels there should be a central authority that takes responsibility for running the town, and all aspects of life therein. “We don’t want there to be a void. The social groups do wonderful work but they should always come with a sell-by date. At the end of the day, the state, or municipality, has to care for the country’s citizens.”
The four-day shebang opens with what Ben Baruch calls “something lighter, crime comedy blockbuster Maktoob.” There is a film about the lives of the deaf, which will be adapted for the needs of the hearingand sight-impaired.
The program also includes a competition for short films made by high-school students which, Ben Baruch, hopes will keep the creative wheels in Lod turning. Ken Loach’s powerful social statement I, Daniel Blake is also in the lineup, even though Ben Baruch says the British director was not particularly keen about having his work screened in Israel. “We deliberated long and hard about this film,” he admits. “This is compulsory viewing for social workers and anyone in the field. It is a depressing film but there is a strong message in there. The Social Welfare Department of the municipality said they’d bring all their employees to the screening, and social workers will come from Ramla and from Rehovot, so it is important for us to show the movie.” There will also be a post-screening panel discussion.
Ben Baruch hopes the festival generates ripples across the social strata spectrum, as well as to other parts of the country. The latter, he notes, has already been achieved. “Last year I met people who came here all the way from Dimona. That’s great.” He is also looking forward to similar ventures springing up further afield. “We need to address our daily needs, not whether or not Iran has a nuclear bomb capacity. We need to get to grips with our own existential issues, and deal with them, on an ongoing basis. It is not like seeing a report on TV, thinking about it for a day or two and then getting back to our regular lives. I want this festival to make a difference.”
For tickets and more information about the Lod the Social Film Festival: