The flip side of Flipper?
Such is Dolphin Boy, the award-winning aquatic documentary making its own loud splash this weekend at the Israeli Film Festival in Philadelphia, where it will be screened on March 3, at 8:30 p.m., at the Franklin Institute.
This true moving account of Morad, a young Israeli Arab teen shattered emotionally by a tragic incident in his life, only to find an outlet for his subsequent explosion of expression through therapy with a dolphin in Eilat, is as amazing as it is ambitious.
Much of its success derives from the talented hands of writer-director-producer Dani Menkin, whose own entry into Israel's film pool has earned him kudos and acclaim for his feature Je taime, I Love You Terminal as well as his HBO/Cinemax documentary and 2006 Oscar nominee 39 Pounds of Love.
He weighs in now on <em>Dolphin Boy</em>, whose water world of therapy washes away the slime and soot of the young Arab's interaction with human society.
The docu is a dive into the divinity of nature and its healing powers, the bath-like balm that helps the youngster heal while still having difficulty returning to village life.
Indeed, it takes a village to restore the trust he had built up over the years, and it takes a dolphin to uncork his bottled-up animus.
And it takes a certain kind of director to channel it all. But then Menkin manned the project with another accomplished filmmaker, directing alongside Yonatin Nir.
It is a project near and dear to both their hearts, a healing swim with a dolphin that is at once a stroke of drama and a tug at the tear ducts.
"As an underwater cameraman, Yonatin was well familiar with the dolphin therapy used at the reef in Eilat," says Menkin, drawn in himself by the storyline.
He and his colleague were knowledgeable about the secret sense of serenity washing over those swimming alongside the mammals; they had done so themselves in the past. "You feel a certain energy. But it is something that is hard to explain."
They use film as interpreter. The majesty of the marine creature to help Morad ease back into the world of the living is not the only revelation unspooled over the reels: "We learn about our neighbors," Menkin says of those Arabs whose lives rarely intersect with Israeli Jews.
"Morad grew up with a father who is as devoted as a Jewish parent," as his own Jewish mom was to him, Menkin says of how stereotypes are waved away by the relationship between Morad and his dad, whose efforts to aid his son are herculean.
The film, he is proud to say, helps "humanize" people "from the other side of Israel."
It is a side worth exploring, but then, Morad is more everyboy than not. "Everybody has something in their life" that needs healing, asserts Menkin.
And this film, with its focus on nature and the natural chemistry of family love and alignment, "could take place anywhere and be about any kid."