Unflinching Eye on the Tough Issues of Israel

The twenty-third annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia may be the most thought provoking. It covers explosive topics that run the gamut from stolen identity, religious beliefs, cheating spouses, police corruption, the meaning of home, and living with developmental impairment. The festival opens March 16, 2019, at the Lightbox Film Center with The Unorthodox and runs through April 7, 2019, closing at the Perelman Theatre, Kimmel Center with The Other Story. “Every year we try to entertain, educate and evoke discussion on the issues facing our and every community across the country,” said Mindy Chriqui, festival Co-Executive Producer.

Echoing that sentiment and in time for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is the film, In Her Footsteps. The movie, screening Saturday, March 30, at Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, shines a spotlight on the first time a Muslim is asked to be buried in a Jewish town and the controversy surrounding what makes up a community. The film has received multiple awards and the Director Rana Abu Fraiha will be the guest speaker. Marcia Bronstein, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, (AJC) an organization committed to building inter-group and inter-religious relations explained, “Films like this make a powerful statement. They open dialogue and can help diametrically opposed groups find common ground. It is a way to combat hate.”

To highlight Autism Awareness Month in April is Shoelaces, playing Sunday, March 31 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It is the touching story about the rights of a developmentally challenged son to donate a kidney to his estranged parent. Director Yankul Goldwasser, himself the father of a child with special needs, will attend the festival and answer questions after the film. Shoelaces is an engaging tale of optimism, warmth and the power of love, in an ever-shifting landscape.

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is known for featuring the best in films from the Middle East. The industry has recently come into prominence with the popularity of such Netflix favorites as Fauda, Mossad and The Heroes Fly. A curated list of 2019 movies will be screened at various locations in both the city at the Ritz East, International House and the Kimmel Center and in the suburbs at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Gratz College and Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy.

Seven Decades of Israeli Film

Scene of two men sitting at a table eating from the movie "Maktub" (Fate)

The movie “Maktub” (Fate)

It has been 70 years since Israel declared its independence.  So this year, the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) will showcase films that highlight different aspects of the region’s history. The movies will be shown at various locations in Philadelphia and the nearby suburbs from March 3 to March 25.

Several of the documentaries and feature films epitomize the struggles that the infant Israeli nation underwent as it transitioned from survival mode to inclusion. Others deal with the acceptance of minorities, modern day dilemmas, and affairs of the heart. [Read more…]

Film Chat: “The Wedding Plan”

Promoted during the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, the film The Wedding Plan finally opened for American audiences, after having received three Ophir Awards, or Israeli Oscars. In Hebrew with English subtitles, the film was written and directed by Rama Burshtein, an Orthodox Israeli, and the creator of the award-winning 2012 film Fill the Void.

In “The Wedding Plan,” protagonist Michal is a 32-year-old religiously observant woman, who runs a mobile petting zoo. Excitedly planning for her upcoming wedding, she is shocked when her fiancé reluctantly admits that he doesn’t love her. Nevertheless, she decides to move forward with her wedding preparations, trusting that if God wants her to be married, He will find a husband for her. The wedding is scheduled for the last night of Hanukkah, leaving exactly one month for a new groom to materialize. Her family is doubtful, and even her rabbi wonders what will happen to Michal’s faith if she doesn’t find a groom under the chuppah.

An American director would have made this film into a romantic comedy, but Burshtein aimed for something deeper, more poignant. Her debut film, “Fill the Void,” is about a religious woman who must make a decision about whether or not to marry her late sister’s husband. Burshtein writes and directs stories set in the religious Jewish world, but which illuminate human emotions common to us all.

Eat like a Sabra

— by Laurel Fairworth

Shakshouka in sauceThe Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) is celebrating an important milestone from March 12 through April 3, 2016: two decades of showcasing the best movies from Israel and the Middle East. The IFF is the only independent non-profit Israeli film festival in the country. What started as a passion project has grown into an eagerly awaited cinematic occurrence.

In honor of the IFF’s 20th anniversary season, Giovani’s Bar and Grill, at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City, has concocted a dish called the Israeli “Big Picture” Shakshouka. For every platter ordered, which includes pita and Israeli chopped salad, the restaurant will make a donation to the film festival.

Shakshouka, a traditional Mediterranean dish, is made up of a spicy tomato sauce with the Middle Eastern herb and spice blend za’atar. The dish also contains paprika, parsley, garlic, feta, olives, onions, hot peppers and of course, perfectly poached eggs. Simon Atiya, his brother Ami and his brother-in-law Haim Atias have been running Giovani’s for more than a decade, and are excited that Israeli cuisine is finally catching on.

“This reminds us of home,” says Atias. “The hearty stew-like meal is often served at breakfast, but can really be enjoyed any time of the day.”

The Israeli Big Picture Shakshouka is not on the menu at Giovani’s, but it is available during the Israeli Film Festival’s run from March 12 through April 3. The dish must be requested and will be made fresh on the spot. Says festival founder Mindy Chiqui, “Watching movies from the Middle East can whet your appetite for foods from the same region.”

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia Platinum anniversary

Twenty years ago there were very few films from the Middle East being shown in Philadelphia. A local trio vowed to change that and thus in 1996 the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia was born. Two decades later it is going strong, playing to sold out crowds, bringing talented actors and directors to our area and attracting the most prestigious in foreign cinema.

Film Chat: A Borrowed Identity

dancing_arabs-629937_full[1]The final selection in the 19th season of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia was Eran Riklis’s A Borrowed Identity, originally titled Dancing Arabs, based on the 2004 novel by Sayed Kashua of the same title.

It is a provocative film that sensitively portrays the alienation of Arabs living in Israel, as they are subjected to legal obstacles, border crossings, and prejudice. It is also discomforting to watch Jews being the oppressor. However, it is a well-crafted piece of art.

The protagonist, Eyad, is a young Arab Muslim boy who wins a scholarship to a prestigious school in Jerusalem, after a humorous incident in which he solves a complicated riddle posed on an Arab show on cable television. The social isolation and public humiliation of being an Arab in a Jewish state impedes his progress. Along the way, he is assigned to visit a disabled Jewish boy, Jonathan, as part of the school’s community service requirement. [Read more…]