×

Have You Heard About the Panthers?

"Have You Heard About the Panthers?" finds filmmaker Nissim Mossek tracking down former comrades from an early 1970s protest group that rattled Golda Meir's regime. Jewish fest play aside, intriguing subject of discrimination within Israel's ethnic Jewish populations is too sloppily articulated for this to have much life offshore.

A slice of history that would be better served by more authorial distance, “Have You Heard About the Panthers?” finds filmmaker Nissim Mossek tracking down former comrades from an early 1970s protest group that rattled Golda Meir’s regime. But, there’s too little about these Israeli “Black Panthers’ ” controversial course and lasting impact, and too much indulgent footage of Mossek & Co. haranguing strangers for the whereabouts of org’s “lost” co-founders. Jewish fest play aside, intriguing subject of discrimination within Israel’s ethnic Jewish populations is too sloppily articulated, and tech package too thrown together, for this to have much life offshore.

Angry Sephardic Jewish youths raised by politically passive parents in Jerusalem’s worst slums, Mossek and several others founded the Panthers to make people aware of the government’s allowing Arab Jews to live in abject poverty while Ashkenazi Jews of Western and Russian origin enjoyed far greater advantages. Their grassroots movement grew to national proportions, ultimately having a major impact on policy — though poverty and discrimination still exist, as surviving participants point out.

Some Panthers, Mossek among them, shot a B&W docu, long thought lost — the only print possibly stolen by Israeli Secret Service before it could be exhibited. But the pic was rediscovered — at the same Jerusalem Cinematheque whose construction ironically evicted numerous poor Sephardic residents.

Excerpts of the earlier docu are interspersed throughout here, often repetitiously. Most vivid are glimpses of the violent police response to demonstrations, though admittedly protesters threw some molotov cocktails of their own.

Thirty-years-later reunions with various onetime Panthers are moderately interesting. A couple went as far as being elected to parliament; others went through phases of heroin addiction or were committed to mental hospitals. The “holy grail” of the pic’s quest is Amram Cohen, a charismatic one-time revolutionary firebrand at last found as a rabbi with his own yeshiva –a school as committed to the kind of fundamental teachings they’d once rebelled against.

All this would be fascinating if better assembled. But Mossek lets indifferently shot pic run to excess, with the reunions mostly less-than-revelatory, due to lack of interviewing depth. While Cohen proves disappointingly conservative in middle age, at least his soft-spoken comments on that radical past are crisply articulated.

Tendency to underline almost every scene with banal rock music adds to the sense of an unfocused, ill-paced vanity project.

Have You Heard About the Panthers?

Israel

  • Production: A Blue Rose Prods. and Herzelia Studio production. Produced by Sharon Shaveet. Directed, edited by Nissim Mossek.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV), Tom Gat; music, Shlomo Mizrachi; sound, Simon Delton. Reviewed at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 28, 2003. Running time: 109 MIN. (Hebrew with English subtitles.)