Sunday, November 4, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Foreign Land

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.

Foreign Land
Directed by Shlomi Eldar
Festival Information

Not every Israeli filmmaker can claim to be able to understand what Palestinians endure as marginalized members of Israeli society, and few have proven how much they care by devoting so much time and energy to showcasing the experiences of those who are disenfranchised and underrepresented. After covering the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip as a news reporter for years, Shlomi Eldar made his directorial debut in 2010 with “Precious Life,” a moving documentary about a Palestinian woman trying to save the life of her four-month-old child. His follow-up is expectedly layered, tackling another complicated instance of identity.

Eldar is very much a main character in his own nonfiction story, explaining his own move to the United States following many years as a liberal Israeli journalist. His film focuses on Arab TV star Ghassan Abbas and his role in a play about called “I Shall Not Hate,” based on Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, born in Gaza and employed at an Israeli hospital, who lost his daughters when they were killed in their home by Israeli fire during the Gaza war. The continued striving for peace by Abuelaish and by Ghassan in his promotion of the play come into conflict with the permanent sense of being an outsider and a foreigner that they feel.

As a Jew from Israel living in America and focusing on highlighting the incredible attitudes of these Palestinian men calling for peace despite what they’ve experienced, Eldar is himself unsure about his own place in the world. Heavy snow is shown falling in his backyard during the winter, something that he would never experience in Israel, and there are still so many things that feel different about where he is and how far away he is from the places that are so important for him personally and professionally for him to need to showcase.

Abbas is a charismatic personality, one who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He has no problem refusing to bow when a right-wing mayor attends his performance, and he discusses how hard it is to relate to Abuelaish, since his first thought is that any man who lost family members in such a way should hate those responsible rather than argue that there must be a path to peace. It’s not clear how wide an audience will see this film, but it being made and being showcased at the Other Israel Film Festival is a fantastic start, ensuring that at least some people who need to see this will understand that even those who have experienced true pain unnecessarily see that more disagreement and violence is not the answer.


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