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Cultural Connection

Daring to be Different

Stephen Dorff as an Israeli fighter pilot in Zaytoun (2012)
The UK Jewish Film Festival runs from 1–18 November across the UK, in Leeds, London, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Manchester.

As in previous years, there is a rich selection of films from Israel—many of which address topics that are likely to be of interest to readers of the Majalla.

The festival includes daring and challenging works and emphasizes creativity, the complexities of personal experience, and critical engagement rather than politics and polemics.

The festival works with the Three Faiths Forum and the Islamic Society of Britain to promote interfaith dialogue. It is screening the film David, which explores the experiences of a Muslim boy who is mistaken for a Jewish boy in Brooklyn and who becomes socially enmeshed with a group of Jewish children who perceive him to be Jewish even though he is, in fact, Muslim.

The film raises potent questions about empathy, identity, the realities and illusions of difference, and the ways in which awareness of our common humanity impact the nature of our particular identities and our willingness to cross boundaries and borders, real and imagined.

David raises potent questions about empathy, identity, the realities and illusions of difference.

A Beautiful Valley (Hannah’s Garden), by Hadar Friedlich, deals with the transformations and shifts in Israeli society and Israeli kibbutzim—exploring how one kibbutz community has changed, and the communications, connections, and misunderstandings between generations on the kibbutz.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, by Thierry Binisti and Valérie Zenatti, is a French-Israeli-Canadian production in Hebrew, Arabic, and French that explores the challenging and unusual relationship of a 17-year-old Israeli named Tali and a 20-year-old Palestinian named Naim.

She lives in Jerusalem and he lives in Gaza, and for myriad reasons their relationship poses questions and confrontations not only for the characters themselves, but for the communities from which they originate.

Also being screened at the festival is Arab Labor—an Israeli television program that looks at Israel, warts and all, through a comedic and critical lens, particularly in relation to how Israel’s Arab minority—Palestinians, Druze, and Bedouin—experiences living as a minority and the discrimination which they sometimes face. The New York Times has said of the program and its chief writer, Sayed Kashua: “Kashua has managed to barge through cultural barriers and bring an Arab point of view into the mainstream of Israeli entertainment.”

In describing the two episodes of the third season that will be screened at the festival, the organizers write:

Arab Labor is pure comedy gold—nothing comes close to satirizing the fears, obsessions, and sheer craziness of Israeli society. . . Our protagonist, the Arab–Israeli Amjad, is desperate for a quiet life, but when he goes on Big Brother in an attempt to help property prices in his building both the ultra-Zionists and Palestinian nationalists adopt him as one of theirs, and nothing goes quite according to plan.

A film that may be of particular interest to the Majalla’s readers is Zaytoun, directed by Eran Riklis: a film about the relationship between an Israeli pilot who is shot down over Lebanon and one of his Palestinian captors, and their journey together. “With a cast led by Stephen Dorff, Zaytoun is a superb road movie that, with humour and pathos, explores the growing friendship of two enemies, born out of mutual dependency.”

Another film offers an uncommon view of Bedouin life. Entitled Sharqiya and directed by Ami Livne, it examines the challenges facing Bedouin in Israel’s Negev region seeking to secure their rights and the complex, hybrid nature of their traditional lifestyle and integration in the modern Israeli economy.

For a full listing of the films being screened and film descriptions see the festival’s website.

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Noam Schimmel is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics as well as a London-based researcher and human rights practitioner with extensive development experience in the field. He has worked in India, South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda, and publishes research in a wide range of academic journals including the International Journal of Human Rights and the >em>International Journal on Minority and Group Rights.

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