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Films bridge Middle East dividing lines

When situation calls, differences are set aside

Israel Film Fest a national celebration | Films bridge Middle East dividing lines | Highlights | Film fest honors four

How blurred are nationality lines when choosing film crews for Israeli features?

It is difficult for Israelis to enter the Palestinian territories and vice versa, making it near impossible for talent to collaborate across borders in a timely and efficient manner. But there are always exceptions to the rule.

In the recent Israeli docu “Precious Life,” about a Palestinian infant being treated for a rare immune disorder at an Israeli hospital, helmer Shlomi Eldar had to rely on a Gazan camera operator to supply him with footage of the infant’s family at home between treatments.

Similarly, Arab-Israeli helmer Suha Arraf was forced to devise an ingenious solution to complete her first docu, “The Women of Hamas,” when Israel barred its citizens from entering Gaza after Hamas won the elections. Unwilling to abandon years of research and preparation, she recruited a Palestinian crew to shoot and conduct interviews under her remote direction.

Arab-Israelis (Israeli citizens whose ethnic heritage is Palestinian and first language Arabic) comprise about 20% of Israel’s population and an even smaller percentage of the Israeli film and television industry, reckons Katriel Schory, director of the Israel Film Fund. Schory stresses that like any citizen, Arab-Israelis are eligible to apply to Israel’s film funds with projects in Arabic, one of Israel’s two official languages.

So, do Arab-Israelis and Jewish Israelis work together in mixed crews? The answer is yes, though the reality is complicated.

Although no official statistics exist, it appears that most Arab-Israelis in the industry work as thesps, with relatively few in the craft trades. Suha Arraf and Sayed Kashua are among the best-known screenwriters.

Jewish Israeli directors such as Avi Nesher (“The Matchmaker”) and Eran Riklis (whose pics “Cup Final,” The Syrian Bride” and “The Lemon Tree” deal with Arab-Israeli issues) insist ethnicity is not a factor when choosing a crew; rather, it’s about working with the best person for the job – and the story.

You couldn’t ask for a more mixed cast and crew than that of “Ajami,” last year’s Israeli submission for the foreign-lingo Oscar, co-directed by Arab-Israeli Skandar Copti and Israeli Jew Yaron Shani. Likewise, Arab-Israeli helmers such as Elia Suleiman, Tawfiq Abu Wael and Ali Nassar also use mixed crews, although they seem to favor Arab-Israelis or foreigners for the chief creative jobs and are more willing to take a chance on Arab-Israeli artists from outside the film world.

Meanwhile, projects such as Tel Aviv U.’s “Coffee — Between Reality and Imagination,” launched by dynamo film professor Yael Perlov, are laying the groundwork for future cross-national collaborations. “Coffee” comprises eight short films, four directed by Israelis and four by Palestinians. The students worked together for a year, helping each other with scripts and pre-production, then shot with mixed crews. This omnibus work will have its U.S. premiere at The Other Israel Festival in New York in November.

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