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Three Israeli Films to Watch For

Tony Wohlfarth
November 16, 2016

by Tony Wohlfarth

The Other Israel Film Festival takes place in New York on December 1 - 8 at the Upper West Side JCC and at other locations in Manhattan and the Bronx. Film screenings are complemented by Q&A sessions, guest speakers, panel discussions and music at the eight day event (www.otherisrael.org). In this column, I'm highlighting three films to watch for during the festival:

Forever Pure (Tehora la’ad) is a documentary about of the Beitar Jerusalem Football (soccer) Club, which was formed in 1936. Beitar was the only team in the Israeli Premier League never to field an Arab player. Then in the 2012-2013 season, team owner and Russian billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak secretly signed two Muslim players from Chechnya -– setting up a contest with the team’s loyal fans (La Familia) that led to the most racist campaign in the history of Israeli sport. Forever Pure had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. The team's fans are comprised largely of Jews from the Sephardic community, and Forever Pure (as the name suggests) provides a lens on racism in Israel. The film went on to screen at the Jerusalem Film Festival, where it won awards for Best Documentary and Best Editing. It is directed by Maya Zinshtein, formerly an investigative journalist with Haaretz. Following the screening on December 4th, there will be a Q&A session, with the director, Maya Zinshtein.

Junction 48 is a compelling drama set in Lod, near Tel Aviv Airport. Kareem (Tamer Nafar) is a rapper, living at home with his parents, doing odd jobs and hanging out with his girlfriend Manar (Samar Qupty). Early on in the film, Kareem’s father is killed in a tragic car accident. Kareem and Manar find comfort performing rap songs in a raucous nightclub. A confrontation takes place with Jewish rappers, who take issue with the polemical lyrics, which evoke the 1948 War of Independence and the displacement of the Arab community. The music is stunning, and the film portrays Israelis of Arab background living on the margins of society, selling drugs and surviving. Junction 48 had its world premiere at the 2016 Berlinale, where it won the Panorama Audience Award for best fictional film. In April, Junction 48 screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award for Best International Narrative Film. In real life, Tamer is the singer for a Palestinian rap group, DAM. Junction 48 is the first feature film directed by Udi Aloni. Tamer & Samar are scheduled to perform a rap concert following the screening on December 3rd.

Sand Storm (Sufat Choi in Arabic) is a moving story about arranged marriages in a Bedouin village in southern Israel. Layla (Lammis Amar) is the precocious, oldest daughter of Suliman (Haitham Omari) and Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour). Layla is a college student, living at home with her parents and three younger sisters. In the opening scene, Layla learns to drive with her father -– suggesting a special kind of relationship between father and daughter. Suliman takes a second wife, as Layla pursues her own relationship with a fellow student, Anwar. The family is torn apart when Suliman rejects Anwar and arranges a marriage for Layla. Sand Storm is the first feature film directed by Elite Zexer, who was inspired to make the film after spending time in one of the villages, meeting women and learning about their situation. Sand Storm is Israel’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards. Filmed on location in the Negev Desert, it won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Following the screening on December 7th, there will be a Q&A session.

Founded in 2007, The Other Israel Film Festival showcases provocative new films, about themes and issues in contemporary Israeli society. Tickets are $12 each or $40 for 5 films (discounts are available for JCC members).

Tony Wohlfarth is a freelance film writer and critic based in Canada.