Israel is filled with people from different backgrounds, all embodying different cultures. It is because of this eclectic mix that it is not just Israel’s delicious cuisine and pulsing music that have gained international acclaim, but its films and filmmakers, too. In the year 2015, Israel was home to two major film festivals: the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Haifa International Film Festival. Here’s a look at eight of Israel’s must-see documentaries.
Super Women (2013)
Director: Yael Kipper & Ronen Zaretzky
Life’s struggle and hardships is what we see here in Super Women which follows the relationships and lives of five cashiers, some Russian immigrants and some native Israelis who all work the same shift in a supermarket. The friendships that are created, and the obstacles that need to be overcome daily.
5 Broken Cameras (2011)
Director: Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
It really is the camera and the image that have created the world we live in today, and these are the visuals that directors Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi have in mind when directing this film. It is a Palestinian farmer’s diary of his non-violent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army. Filmed almost entirely by Palestinian farmer (and director) Emad Burnat, the documentary is structured around the destruction of Burnat’s cameras, over five years and through five cameras smashed during resistance. We see his village’s struggles parallel to his own son growing up. 5 Broken Cameras won a 2012 Sundance Film Festival award and was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award.
The Gatekeepers (2012)
Director: Dror Moreh
Astonishingly told from the viewpoint of six of its former heads, Director Dror Moreh exposes stories of the Shin Bet (Israeli internal security service) giving exclusive access to those who work for the Shin Bet, and exposing the unknown to the unknown and the audience to those that threaten Israel’s security. The Gatekeepers is a must-see due to the atrocities that are happening around us, with a focus on specific topics that are still relevant today.
Dancing in Jaffa (2013)
Director: Hilla Medalia
This heartwarming documentary, Dancing in Jaffa, illustrates the power of dance to bring people together, regardless of political ideologies, religion or race. Ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine teaches Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children to dance and compete with one another in Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish city. Rather metaphorically, it is through ballroom dancing that we understand the complex political and religious issues that still prevail. Dulaine explores the composite stories of three children, all of whom are forced to to dance with their enemy, but who by the end almost prove to us that dance can provide steps for change.
The Polgar Variant (2014)
Director: Yossi Aviram
Laszlo Polgar believed that ‘geniuses are made, not born’ and he set out to prove it. It was his three daughters who were his projects, and the medium he chose was chess. Israeli filmmaker Yossi Aviram collected never before seen archives to produce this film. The Polgar Variant is a fascinating perspective into a mindset that most will be unaware of – that of a chess champion.
The Flat (2011)
Director: Arnon Goldfinger
Director Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother lived in the same apartment for 70 years. Goldfinger finds items in her apartment that reveal a mind blowing chapter in his family’s history that had been kept under wraps for decades. He is shocked to discover that his grandparents maintained a close personal relationship with a high-ranking Nazi official, Leopold von Mildenstein. The Flat shows the process of gradual discovery which for the director is a trip into the past of his own family. During the filming of the documentary both families experience painful revelations.
Director: Ami Livne
This may seem like another non-fiction picture of the Arab Israeli conflict; Israelis on one side and Arabs on the other. But in fact, this documentary is much more about the cultural discrepancies that keep the two apart. Sharqiya tells the story of the internal predicaments of a Bedouin family living in an unrecognized village in Israel. No one shows the young bedouin, Camel Najer, any respect, so when the Israeli government threatens to tear down his settlement, he decides to act.
The Wanderer (2010)
Director: Avishai Sivan
The Wanderer tells the story of Isaac, a young yeshiva student and an only child to newly orthodox parents. Trapped in a dysfunctional family and a failing body, Isaac finds refuge in wandering. He looks for answers in his father’s skeptical past and in wandering the backstreets of the city, where the story unfolds.
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