"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel", is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

My next speaking tour to North America will be in October 2015! Contact me if you are interested in my speaking in your community. My contact info: amykronish@gmail.com

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lia van Leer -- In Memory

Lia van Leer was a unique individual who succeeded in establishing new institutions, inspired by her own vision and passion. In a country where film had been primarily seen as a form of entertainment or a means of propaganda, van Leer, through her untiring efforts, has helped change that image and raise filmmaking and film appreciation to a new level. As a result, film is now seen as an expression of culture and art, and is funded as such by government agencies.

She passed away last night at the age of 90. May she rest in peace.

I worked for Lia for 15 years.  During that time, I learned a tremendous amount from a greater-than-life woman who was obsessed and committed to her work.  She especially expressed interest and encouragement in two big projects which I curated -- the Yiddish Film Festival (in cooperation with the National Center for Jewish Film in Waltham, Massachusetts) and the establishment of the annual Jewish Film Festival.  She always saw Jewish and Yiddish film as a commemoration to her parents who she lost in the Shoah. 

Winner of the Israel Prize for her contribution to the field of cinema in Israel, she is remembered for establishing the Haifa Cinematheque, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the Israel Film Archive and the Jerusalem International Film Festival.

Please see the biography that I wrote about her for the Jewish Women's Archive on-line. 

[the text of this biography was approved by Lia when it was written about 10 years ago]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Lost Scrolls of Deuteronomy

This fascinating documentary film, Shapira and I (directed by Yoram Sabo), unfolds like a detective story, layer by layer.  This is the story of  Moses Shapira who sold ancient manuscripts in a shop in the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City during the latter half of the 19th century. During those years, Shapira had in his possession ancient scrolls of the Book of Deuteronomy but experts at the British Museum decided that the scrolls were a forgery.  Shortly thereafter, Shapira committed suicide and the scrolls disappeared.

Filmmaker Yoram Sabo, together with cinematographer Yoram Millo, take us on a compelling journey searching for this lost treasure -- the ancient scrolls of Deuteronomy.  As the story unfolds, we meet historical researchers, book dealers, and even a British psychic!  We visit a dusty collection of historical artifacts in a London basement.  We learn that Shapira converted to Christianity and joined Christ Church in Jerusalem.  We read from a book by one of his daughters who describes her father's shop in the Old City.  And most importantly, we begin to realize why researchers today believe that these scrolls of the Book of Deuteronomy were actually authentic.

If you are a connoisseur of Jewish history and find meaning in the Dead Sea Scrolls, then this fascinating story of Moses Shapira will certainly interest you!  

Shapira and I (documentary, 57 minutes) is available from Ruth Diskin Films.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Next to Her, a film about two sisters

Next to Her את לי לילה  , directed by Asaf Korman, was the big prize-winner at the last Haifa Film Festival, October 2014. This is an emotional and hard-hitting film about caring for a disabled sister, about relationships, about frustration and loneliness.

The film tells the story of two sisters living together in Haifa.  Gabby is mentally-challenged.  She is cared for by her older sister, Cheli, who works during the day as a security guard at a local high school.  It isn't easy to care for such a sister.  The difficulties, loneliness and frustrations are all apparent.  Eventually Cheli finds a day-care program for her sister and begins to take her there regularly, while she is at work.   But they are still very close, sleeping together every night, bathing together, sharing a somewhat ambivalent relationship.  Eventually Cheli meets a guy -- he's the substitute gym teacher at the high school.  As expected, this begins to affect the relationship between the sisters.

According to an interview on Israeli Radio with the screenwriter, Liron Ben Shlush (who plays Cheli and is the wife of the film director), the image of the sister takes inspiration from her own sister.  The story of the film was born in an acting workshop where she decided to write a scene about what would have happened to her if she hadn't had such a supportive family around her, how her life would have been different.

In fact, the viewer wonders about this too.   Just when we are asking ourselves about  the rest of the family, the mother pays a visit and we realize that she is not capable of caring for Gabby.  She has no empathy or love for her severely-disabled daughter.  

This is an artistic yet realistic film.  The pacing is superb, and the acting by both of the lead women characters (Cheli is played by Ben Shlush and Gabby is played by Dana Ivgy) is a tour-de-force.  As the film draws you in, the twists in the narrative cause you to gasp, and the hard-hitting nature of the material leaves you extraordinarily affected long after.

The title of the film in Hebrew, את לי לילה , At Li Laylah, is taken from a Boaz Sharabi song, which you can listen to on youtube. 

Next to Her was produced by United King.

Student Films from Ma'aleh

Just last week, I had the opportunity of attending the screening of this year's graduation films from the Ma'aleh Film School.    I love viewing and analyzing student films because they provide us with a window into the subjects that are of concern to the younger generation.  If you are doing film programming, take note of this year's group of six films which are of particularly high quality and definitely worthwhile!  There are three short dramas, one video-art and two documentaries.

Three Short Dramas

short drama, 28 min., Dir: Alon Rabinovich

Valdimir is the lighting technician at the Jerusalem Theater, but he dreams of much more -- he wants to be an actor and play Shylock on the stage.  This is an interesting and authentic drama about Jewish identity, about who is a Jew, and about who has a monopoly on being Jewish. 

Riding his bike to work one day, Vladimir meets an old friend from Russia who has become haredi and is helping people put on tefillin on Ben Yehuda St.  His friend puts the tefillin on him and Vladimir is quite moved by the experience.  But he finds it a challenge to discuss with his wife the changes that he is feeling.   The story develops and it is interesting to see how the couple eventually finds their way.

The Little Dictator
short drama, 29 min., Dir: Nurit Cohn

Yossi is a nerdy professor whose area of specialization is totalitarian leadership.  Unappreciated by his students, Yossi goes home at the end of the day to a domineering wife and three children.  At a family weekend where the extended family is celebrating Grandma's 90th birthday, he finds himself in a surreal situation, but is able to vindicate himself.  A tour-de-force in acting and directing. 

The French Revolution
short drama, 21 min., Dir: Hai Afik

A noisy street disturbance bursts into the home of a young couple as two hooligans barge in and destroy their well-being.  A very hard-hitting film about cruelty, humiliation and self-respect.


Wall, Crevice, Tear 
video-art, 11 min., no language, Dir.: Tehila Ra'anan

A poetic visit to the Kotel (Western Wall).  This is a film of beauty and yearning,  filmed during different seasons of the year, expressing  feelings about the meaning of the Kotel for both the pious and the secular. 

About Disabilities - Two documentaries

Hannah is Beautiful
doc., 22 min., Dir.: Shira Meisher

Hannah is a 37-year-old woman with mental challenges, who lives in an apartment sponsored by the non-profit organization, Shekel.  This is a touching look at a woman who desperately wishes she could find love.  She works full-time in a government cafeteria and is terribly disappointed when she is refused a raise.  She takes great care with what she wears, her make-up, how she looks.  On the one hand, we've seen films like this before.  On the other, it is a poignant portrait of a wonderful woman who believes that she has to make the best of what life has given her.  

Mazal Means Luck
doc., 29 min., Dir: Mazal Ben-Yishai

The filmmaker's parents are mentally challenged and the filmmaker was brought up in one household by both her parents and grandparents.  In fact, the film beautifully integrates old family movies in order to tell the story of this remarkable family.  Now that her grandparents are getting older, they are grappling with where her parents will go to live when the grandparents are gone.  Is it the young woman's responsibility to live with her parents, sacrificing her life to them in order to take care of them? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Israeli Short Film Nominated for an Oscar

Aya, directed by Oded Bin-nun and Michal Brezis, received a nomination for an Academy Award in the Short Film category!  Very exciting news! 

The short drama (40 minutes) is about a woman who picks up a stranger at an airport. 

The film won an Israeli Ophir Award for best Short Fiction film in 2013. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bedouin of the Negev

Invisibles, directed by Mushon Salmona, tells a tragic story about contemporary issues between Arabs and Jews in the Negev -- relations with the government authorities, problems of land confiscation and house demolitions.   

The film opens with Ra'id, a young Bedouin man, as he is receiving his army discharge.  He has decided  to return to his village, somewhere between Dimona and Beersheba, a small village -- about 20 poured-concrete little houses.  His father has sold his herd of goats so that his son will have the money he needs to get married and to get started in life.  Ra'id, however, dreams of opening a restaurant in a tent off the main road, where Jews would gather for good Bedouin food and atmosphere.   Ra'id's father wants him to marry Mariam, a local school teacher.  However, Ra'id finds his cousin's fun-loving Jewish girlfriend much more compelling.

Although he seems to be a rather quiet fellow, the viewer can gather bits and pieces about Ra'id's identity, about belonging in society, how he sees himself in the future, and how he gets involved with his good-for-nothing cousin.  

According to a radio interview with the filmmaker, who grew up in Beersheba, the Bedouin community in the Negev now participates in many areas of life in Beersheba.  Whereas once it was just commerce, now there is also Arab-Jewish exchange in the areas of education, culture and entertainment, and this is reflected in the film. 

Invisibles is available from Transfax.  Transfax also produced and distributes Vasermil, the first feature by the same filmmaker, Mushon Salmona.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bulgarian Rhapsody

Bulgarian Rhapsody is a World War II period drama directed by Ivan Nitchev.  Although not an Israeli film per se, I have chosen to write about it since it is a co-production with Israel, and also due to its subject matter, and due to the fact that the film stars Israel's Moni Moshonov (who is himself of Bulgarian descent).

A few words about historical context -- the Bulgarian government cooperated and sided with the Nazis and enacted many anti-Jewish laws during the period of World War II.  Their leading church figures, however, did not permit the Jewish community to be rounded up and sent to be slaughtered.   This was a unique phenomenon in all of Europe, but the Jews of the neighboring Greek and Macedonian towns were not so lucky.

Based on a true family story, the drama focuses on the friendship between two boys -- Moni is a shy Jewish teenager.  His best friend, Giorgio (not Jewish), has more success with the girls.  When Moni's family sends him together with his sister and  grandmother to visit family friends in a neighboring Greek seaport town, he falls madly in love with Shelly.  Shortly thereafter, Shelly and her family come to Sofia for Moni's sister's wedding, and Giorgio decides to pursue her, creating a love triangle, which is the basis for the narrative construct of the film.  

The narrative includes additional interesting elements of the period -- the young couple who depart for Palestine, the unrequited love affair of the grandparents, the good relations between Jews and non-Jews, and the brute anti-Semitism of Giorgio's father.  

The film provides an interesting window into the Jewish community of Sofia, with authentic atmosphere of the period, including furniture, clothing, and food.   The film is also authentic in its depiction of the authorities who were not hesitant in complying with Nazi policies, even though this did not lead to mass deportations, as in most of the other countries in Eastern Europe. 

Bulgarian Rhapsody is Nitchev's third installment in a trilogy about the history of Bulgaria's Jewish community. The first two films were  After the End of the World (1999) and The Journey to Jerusalem (2003).