Here are the films that are once again hosting the Israel Film Center Festival in New York
New York Jewish Week – From an epic historical film about Israel’s War of Independence to a nuanced documentary set in modest Petah Tikva, a diverse list of notable new Israeli films are coming to New York this week.
The 10th Israel Film Center Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which runs through June 8, brings back in-person screenings and continues online screenings after two years of entirely virtual festivals.
The festival will screen four feature films – two documentaries and two fiction films – and the first episodes of the second season of the Israeli comedy TV series “The New Black” (“Shababnikim”), which is about four bad-boy yeshiva students. who are testing the boundaries of their Haredi Orthodox community.
The festival is part of the Carole Zabar Center for Film of the JCC, an initiative launched 15 years ago by Carole Zabar. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because Zabar married into the mouth-watering dynasty whose name is to bagels and New York lox what Kleenex is to tissues. She spent her formative years in Israel and aims to bring that Israeli perspective to cinema. “I lived in Israel for five years and have been immersed in Israeli cinema since its inception,” she told New York Jewish Week. “The industry has so much more to offer than most Americans have access to.”
In addition to this festival, Zabar founded another Israeli film festival through the Film Center: The Other Israel Film Festival focuses on human rights and sociopolitical themes in Israeli cinema, choosing works that elevate underrepresented voices in Israeli and Palestinian society.
The ongoing Israeli Film Center Festival has a more mainstream selection, though several of its offerings include social and political themes. Isaac Zablocki, director and founder of the festival, told Jewish Week: “I think Israeli film is a window into a much truer reality of Israeli society. We normally come to see Israel through the filter of the news. Films can share human stories that shed light on the details of a culture. For the Jewish community in particular, a deeper understanding of Israeli culture is crucial.
“At the same time,” he added, “for those who feel close to Israeli culture, it is important to have a place to appreciate and share stories relevant to our society.”
A highlight of the festival is the documentary “Queen Shoshana,” directed by Kobi Farag and Morris Ben-Mayor, which takes a candid look at one of Israel’s first divas, Israeli Yemeni folk singer Shoshana Damari. Damari, best known for her song “Kalaniot” (Anemones), rose to fame in Israel in the 1940s and 1950s and struggled to balance her artistic career with her family life. (A new generation discovered her later in life through her collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel.)
Damari spent several years in the United States where she befriended Nina Simone, Danny Kaye and Nat King Cole. “I had friends in high society,” Damari says in an interview included in the film. “Harry Belafonte has some of my records. I’m sure he learned ‘Night by Night’ from me. (In addition to Damari’s music, the film includes unexpected clips of Belafonte and Simone singing Hebrew folk songs.)
“She came from a Yemeni background and she brought a Middle Eastern voice to Israeli society which at the time was a very Ashkenazi and Eurocentric society,” Zablocki said. “She was a revolutionary voice. She was a star before Israel had stars.
The festival’s opening night film was “Image of Victory,” directed by Avi Nesher, a giant of Israeli cinema. The film chronicles the Battle of Nitzanim, which took place in a kibbutz during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Based on a true story, the film depicts the events as seen by characters on either side of the war: a propaganda filmmaker from Cairo (Amir Khoury) and a kibbutznik radio operator (Joy Rieger), both torn between their idealistic values and the bloody reality they face. As the film progresses, tensions rise and the fighting escalates. The film has the brilliant, epic sensibility of a Hollywood war movie and depicts the devastating human costs of war. He was nominated for 15 Ophir Awards, the Israeli Oscars.
Zablocki called “Image of Victory” one of the greatest Israeli productions of all time. “Avi Nesher is something like the James Cameron of Israel – he’s a top director with a very polished voice who’s a great storyteller. It’s a historic film, which is a feat for an Israeli production,” he said “The film brings the Egyptian perspective and touches on the place of cinema and how we capture stories. He is a very fluid filmmaker and he brings together a great cast to tell a story that most people don’t know.
Also screened will be ‘Promised Lands’, directed by Yael Reuveny, a documentary about a filmmaker returning home to visit her primary school class in Petach Tikva province.
Now living in Berlin, she examines a generation in Israel that grew up in relatively more peaceful times and explores what happened to that hope.
“The Swimmer,” directed by Adam Kalderon, is a scripted film about swimmers trying to qualify for the Olympics. “It’s about the gay community, and there’s also a father-son theme, and it’s the most universal of movies,” Zablocki said.
“There is no politics, no war, no religion there. It’s an inside story. It is an excellent example of the current situation of Israeli cinema in terms of production qualities. And it fits very well with the international gay film genre.
“The New Black” (“Shababnikim”), created by Eliran Malka and Daniel Paran, is one of Israel’s most successful programs. “This series is about what’s popular in Israel today, which is part of the nuance of the Israeli perspective that our festival seeks to express,” Zablocki said.
In addition to nuance, Zablocki hopes the festival expresses the diversity of Israeli cinema.
“In any healthy society where you can tell human stories, your stories will be different because people are different,” he said. “And there’s so much going on in Israel – there’s no one way or one movie that defines Israel. They all define Israel in different ways. And I think what ties them all together is the quality of the production and the storytelling.
The films can be seen until June 8 in person at screenings at Marlene Meyerson JCC (334 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10023) or virtually only in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased here.