Monday, November 5, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: In Her Footsteps

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 12th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place November 1st-8th, 2018.

In Her Footsteps
Directed by Ranu Abu Fraiha
Festival Information

Home can mean everything to members of a community. It’s a place in which the ways of life can be preserved, without outsiders or interruption, mostly immune to modernization and other reforms. The comfort that it brings its most devoted residents can be just as strong a force to drive those who aren’t eager to live within it away. The liberties and opportunities gained by leaving a tight-knit community may be great, but with them comes a price. If one place doesn’t feel entirely right, trying somewhere new may prove to be just as dissatisfying or disheartening, offering its own challenges along with the benefits.

Rana Abu Fraiha interviews her parents to learn their story about fleeing from their Bedouin village in the middle of the night to start a new life in Omer, a very nearby Jewish town in Israel. When her mother’s breast cancer spreads and gets her thinking about her impending death, she shares her desire to be buried in Omer. Dealing with a Muslim burial in a Jewish cemetery proves to be a new question for the town, and as Ranu waits to hear back on whether it will be allowed, she focuses in on her family and how where they lived has shaped who they are.

Video footage of Ranu’s parents’ wedding day serves as a frequent reminder of another time before the family relocated to Omer. As they discuss their hopes and wishes for the future, Rana and her siblings contemplate what their identity really is. They don’t feel authentically Arab because they have lived side-by-side with Jews for all of their lives, yet, as becomes especially clear when the question of what happens after death comes up, they can’t fit in with their surrounding community even though they speak Hebrew and engage regularly with their neighbors.

This film represents a fitting and enlightening exploration of what belonging means when someone doesn’t match a particular mold. It’s not a question of Israelis against Palestinians or anyone feeling that their land and their country have been taken from them. Instead, it’s about existing on the periphery without fully acknowledging it until a simple matter that everyone must deal with becomes incontrovertibly complicated and impossible to negotiate. It’s also an affecting story about loss and inevitability, one that is, to a degree, universally relatable and all the more poignant due to the surrounding circumstances.


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