Festival Spotlights Israeli Minority Films

Still from The Unorthodox (Photos courtesy of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia)

The 23rd annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia has more films highlighting minority and women’s issues than ever before.

The festival, which runs from March 16 to April 7, includes films that tell stories about diverse communities like Bedouins and Druze, delve into the intersection of women’s issues and Orthodoxy and cover the discrimination Sephardic Jews have historically faced from Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment.

“The artistic community never shies away from controversy,” said Mindy Chriqui, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director. “In fact, I sometimes think they really look hard for it. [Diversity is] really an ongoing theme when we look back at movies throughout the years, but yes, this year, it’s particularly strong.”

The festival’s selection committee didn’t set out to pick films that emphasized diversity, festival chairperson Nurit Yaron said. Their goal was just to select the best films coming out of Israel right now. Because the festival takes place at different locations throughout the area — this year, there are six venues — the committee takes the audiences of those venues into consideration when selecting the films.

The committee doesn’t have a specific number of films to select, Yaron said, ensuring that all films are high quality and not just included to fill a slot.

It was only after the selections that the festival’s staff noticed the diversity theme.

“We don’t look at the subject and say, ‘This year is going to be about x, y and z,” said Yaron, who lives in Israel. “First, we don’t have unlimited films, and second, this is not the way we work. We watch each film. We decide if we like it or not. Some films we like immediately; some films we don’t like. Some films go on the waitlist.”

The Unorthodox, a film about the creation of the Sephardic Shas party in Israel, opens the Israeli Film Festival. It screens on March 16 at 8:30 p.m. and on March 17 at 2 p.m. at the Lightbox Film Center at the International House.

Out of the films this year, Chriqui pointed to Cause of Death and In Her Footsteps as examples of films covering minority issues.

Cause of Death, which screens on March 23 at 8:30 p.m. at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, is a documentary exploring the death of a Druze police officer who was killed by a terrorist a decade prior. The film follows the officer’s brother, who is investigating the death.

In Her Footsteps is another documentary, about a Bedouin family who make a home for themselves in a Jewish community called Omer. The mother, facing terminal breast cancer, requests that she be buried in the Jewish town, but she is the first Muslim resident to ever make that request.

A Mirror for the Sun and The Other Story center on women at the festival.

A Mirror for the Sun, on April 6 at 8:45 p.m. at Gratz College, is a documentary about the Israel Defense Forces’ first Orthodox combat navigator. After voluntarily serving in the military, she goes on a hiking trip to Nepalese mountains and is hit by an unexpected snowstorm.

Still from The Other Story

The Other Story, on April 7 at 7 p.m. at the Kimmel Center Perelman Theatre, is the festival’s final screening. It follows a woman leaving Orthodoxy for a secular life and a woman leaving her secular life for Orthodoxy.

Other films include Echo, You Only Die Twice, The Ancestral Sin and Shoelaces.

Echo is about a man who begins secretly recording his wife’s conversation after becoming concerned that she is cheating on him. It will screen on March 17 at 7 p.m. at The Ritz East.

In You Only Die Twice, an Israeli filmmaker delves into his grandfather’s life after the family experiences difficulties with his inheritance. The documentary will screen on March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Kimmel Center Perelman Theatre.

The Ancestral Sin, on March 25 at 7 p.m. at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, is a historical documentary. It delves into the history of how a young Israeli government, in the first decades after independence, forced new immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa to settle in the Negev.

Shoelaces, which also played at the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, is about a man with special needs whose father, who abandoned him as a young child, becomes his caregiver after his mother dies. It screens on March 31 at 7 p.m. at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

The festival includes one short, Homemade, which was created by young filmmakers as part of the Jerusalem Film Project. Homemade plays before the screening of A Mirror for the Sun.

More of the film’s directors and screenwriters are attending the festival than in past years, Chriqui said. They include David Derry, The Ancestral Sin director and You Only Die Twice screenwriter; The Unorthodox director Eliran Malka; In Her Footsteps director Rana Abu Fraiha; and Shoelaces director Yankel Goldwasser.

The festival usually sells out for most of the shows. Chriqui estimates that between 2,500 and 3,000 attendees will come.

“The festival is an Israeli film festival,” Yaron said. “It’s important to show the face of Israel.”

Tickets for the film festival are available at iffphila.com.

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