First real feature by French ethnologist Maurice Dores after nearly three decades of very occasional films on African subjects, docu “Black Israel” offers a perfunctory and scattershot overview of people of African heritage involved in Judaism and/or Jewish communities. Novelty of theme and diversity of interviewees helps maintain some interest, but this is undermined by the talking-head-dominated execution. Educational circuits rep logical destination.
Despite title, only pic’s first half actually focuses on residents of Israel. They include a former Togo diplomat who retired after years of warm relations with the Israeli government, and refugees from other African countries taking advantage of the country’s fairly liberal immigration policies. (Converting to Judaism, however, is far more difficult.) Also included are “Hebrew Israelites,” a large, self-contained community of African-Americans who began their religious pilgrimage more than 30 years ago. Then docu roams somewhat randomly through encounters with an aspiring convert in Paris, West Indian emigres, black synagogues in New York City, mixed-parentage author Rebecca West (“Black & White & Jewish”), etc. Interviews grow more interesting as pic proceeds, though there’s not much sense of a binding thesis. Tech aspects are adequate at best.