Saturday, November 16, 2019

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Samaritan

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 13th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place November 14th-21st, 2019.

Directed by Julien Menanteau
Festival Information

There are many religions in the world, and a good number of them intersect closely with others, differing slightly based on readings of texts and particular practices and observances that define them. It’s also the case that the holiest places for multiple religions that share similar roots are the same, interpreted by each as holding meaning for a specific purpose. When people from different faiths live in such close proximity to each other, it can lead to plenty of conflict, but there’s also the possibility that it can create an enriching space for coexistence, providing everyone is committed to living with their neighbors with more understanding than judgment.

The Samaritans once numbered more than one million; now they are fewer than eight hundred. They live in the West Bank in an area that permits them to be holders of both Palestinian and Israeli citizenship, frequently communicating with those around them even if many they meet know little about their culture and how they identify. While Israelis mistake them for Palestinians and Palestinians mistake them for Israelis, they face their own internal struggles about how to keep their religion alive, holding firm to practices passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition and kept sustainable by those who bring new members into the faith through marriage.

This film focuses on Abdallah Cohen, the grandson of the high priest, who learns from the leader of the community and tries to have his own life at the same time. His activities are normal for a young man, eager to meet women and enjoy simple pleasures. He delights at confusing people by speaking Hebrew, Arabic, and English fluently and getting puzzled questions about where he comes from and who he is. He’s a relatable subject, emblematic of a transition from past to present that ensures the preservation of tradition.

This documentary runs just fifty-two minutes, which allows time to get to know Abdallah and learn a bit about his faith, but not much more. As a full exploration of what it means to be a devoted Samaritan and the origins of the religion, this film doesn’t do much more than offer a basic introduction requiring further independent research by anyone whose curiosity is piqued by it. As a selection of the Other Israel Film Festival, it offers an eye-opening and thought-provoking look at a culture not often profiled among the diversity that exists in the Middle East.


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