29 March 2012

Our First Look at Yossi

Well, not our first look at Yossi, like, ever. But rather the sequel, which screens the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival.

I found this online and had to share it. 

Ohad Knoller returns as (I will avoid usage of the phrase "the eponymous") Yossi. Oz Zehavi, who is to my mind an Israeli Jude Law, portrays his new lover.

Ronit Speaks!

I'm posting this Ronit Elkabetz interview by the dubiously named EuroNews. Questions I guess everyone has about Israeli film.

En français, mes amis! 

27 March 2012

I Guess I Didn't Know


Wisconsin Public Television's public engagement does a program called Reel to Real in conjunction with the Wisconsin Library Association, so I was putzing around Independent Lens looking for films to screen.

So, long story short, I found that I could actually watch one of the movies by Tomer (yes, "my" Tomer!) on Hulu. This is a big deal for me because I've only been able to find Paper Dolls in my local DVD spot and maybe I Shot My Love on Netflix.

And I wouldn't have known if I hadn't happened to have been meandering around on public television websites. I don't get all the film industry lingo and whole how-the-film-goes-from-an-idea-in-someone's-head-to-a-screen-near-me process. But I do get Hulu...

So, I've embedded Bridge Over the Wadi above for your viewing pleasure. It's about a bilingual, bi-national school for both Arab and Jewish children. I started watching it, but haven't finished it. It's hard for me to watch so far because it reminds me of racism here in the U.S.

22 March 2012

No. Thank You, Idan Raichel

For helping me get my swerve back. Intellectually speaking, of course. Dirty birds.

The first semester of the pro-track program I flailed around feeling, to mix metaphors, both lost at sea and high and dry. During the holiday season, by chance, my supervisor at the fair trade store (yep, I'm a hippie!) decided to jettison the cheesy Putamayo world music cds for Pandora. So, she was giving them away to customers and employees.

The first time I ever laid eyes on an Israeli had to have been in 1994 a few months before I turned 19. It was the summer after my first year of college. I'd like to say I didn't gape or stare or find it incredibly novel to know an Israeli, but I can't be sure. There's a good chance I didn't because I met people from Thailand, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Turkey, the Netherlands, and France that summer, too. And I had been socialized to think that nearly the entire point of going to college was fleeing one's small-town background pell-mell to meet and take up with people different from oneself.

One of the world music cds being exorcised by my supervisor was an Idan Raichel Project cd. I'd heard of him, so I adopted it--even though I knew from experience that Israeli pop music can be rather...hit or miss at best. I bought a cd by Aviv Geffen, Israel's biggest pop star during the 1990s, when I was studying abroad at Tel Aviv University in 1996. I understood hardly a syllable of it. And the melodies were unpolished to ears that knew from 1980s new wave and 1990s indie rock. I have a theory about Israel's pop music: it's the result of Israeli society's domination, socially, culturally, economically, and politically, by people descended from Eastern Europeans.

In 2001, Etgar Keret, Israel's most important writer under 50, was an International Writing Program participant at The University of Iowa. His now-wife Shira Geffen came along with him. I was standing outside the Iowa Memorial Union with them. Etgar introduced me to Shira. "Are you related to Aviv Geffen?" I snickered, showing off my knowledge of Israeli culture with a simper. "He's my brother," Shira said. Needless to say, I felt like a complete idiot.

But back to our friends of the Idan Raichel Project. I played the cd later that evening at home and liked "Shuvi El Beyti" immediately for the keys. Listening to it almost obsessively later, I realized I liked the melody, which is simple, but rather sweet. No, I don't know what it means. Except, well, like, "Come back to my house," is about what the title means. So. Draw your own conclusions.

Continuing to listen to this song and "Bo'i"--repeatedly--with headphones reminded me how beautiful Hebrew is. I remember sitting in a classroom at Tel Aviv University ignoring my Hebrew teacher to write (English) poetry. Leaving no biblical allusion behind, I described Hebrew as "spiced wine." Hey. I was only 21. But listening to the Idan Raichel Project cd reminded me that Hebrew is exciting and, I would venture, pretty seductive to hear. We just don't have consonants like that in English.

Reconnecting with my love of Hebrew led to other reunions--famously, my Israeli literature in translation binge during the winter holiday. A switch I had forgotten had been flipped. I got involved with UW Hillel's Israeli Film Festival--one of the best weeks of my life. Then I decided to start watching Israeli films in the comfort of my own home with friends. See where this is going?

I'm doing my story for 880 about Israeli film, likely, more specifically, the Heymann brothers--who have, of course, done films about Idan Raichel Project and Aviv Geffen. No, I didn't just make that up. It's true. Israel's a small country.
It happens that Idan Raichel's new joint will be in, uh, Platteville, next month. (Oh, and Etgar Keret and Nathan Englander will be doing something together in Chicago next month, too.) Yes, I know all this synchronicity is, like, weird, but welcome to my life. Maybe I'll go. I owe him many thanks.

19 March 2012

This Is How You Write a Story About Israeli Film in 30 Easy Steps

Tomer (left) and Barak Heymann
As the title promises, this post is about how one goes about writing a story about Israeli film. Let's get on to it, shall we?

  1. First, you should start by deciding in the fall semester you will do your story about Batsheva Dance Company, which you have not seen perform in 10 years. 
  2. Become involved with the organization of  the Israeli film festival nearest at hand. This will lead you to blog nearly constantly about Israeli film and spend all your aimless Internet time on IMDb, watching trailers, and (not really!!) stalking Israeli directors and producers.
  3. Hey, why don't you start screening Israeli movies with friends in your living room every other week while you're at it...
  4. Gradually, gradually, the realization you are feeling not as enthusiastic as you should to sustain a 2,500-word story about Batsheva accretes in your consciousness. Tamp it down purposefully, stub it out. Will this feeling out of existence. You must write about Batsheva. You are a Batsheva evangelist. There is a wider population of American dance fans completely unaware of their awesomeness; you cannot leave them in their sordid philistinism. Batsheva needs you. Woman up, already!
  5. Besides, what else could you possibly do your story about?
  6. Oh! Right! 
  7. Pitch your story to Deborah Blum in class as an alternative to the Batsheva story as clumsily as possible. Do you have any contacts in the Israeli film industry, she asks. No, you do not. Well, what is your story about? That's sort of unclear, it turns out. She kind of greenlights your story. 
  8. Email the Israeli Consulate, UW Cinematheque director, and Esty Dinur asking (read: begging) them for suggestions and contacts.
  9. Look up Dani Menkin's movies when the Israeli Consulate suggests him. Google him. Come up with no contact info no matter what you try. Though, he is a 3rd-degree contact on LinkedIn. But is he really going to respond to a 3rd-degree contact on LinkedIn? I mean, would you?
  10. Email the Israeli Consulate again whining for his contact info.
  11. Send an email to Dani Menkin's agency because that's what the Israeli Consulate gave you.
  12. Get no response from Dani Menkin's agency. Subsequently, start digging around the university where he's an artist-in-residence.
  13. Begin composing an email to the communications person in the school in which his residency is located. Procrastinate sending it.
  14. Finally send the email. The communications person in school A responds almost immediately telling you she doesn't work with him and that you should try the communications person in school B at the same university.
  15. You cannot restrain yourself from pointing out that both school A and school B have film programs in your reply thanking the school A flack for school B flack's email. (You know this because you were admitted to the Television-Radio-Film department in school A several years ago--though, there's no reason to mention this in your email. So, you don't.)
  16. Email school B flack requesting an interview with Dani Menkin. 
  17. When school B flack replies with the email of the professor who works with the residency, email that professor toute de suite. 
  18. At the same time, hear from Esty Dinur with a director's phone number.
  19. Check out Esty's director's IMDb page. See that he has directed Clara Khoury. This is an appropriate time to freak out utterly and completely, firing off a nearly incoherent email to your advisor. You're too intimidated to call him.
  20. Post-freak out, see that the residency professor has given you Dani Menkin's email address. Shilly-shally for about one work day before sending him an email. 
  21. Timidly email Dani Menkin. When he replies, attempt to hash out a time you will call him.
  22. One day at work, happen onto the Heymann Brothers' website. Be amazed by what you read about their documentaries about Aviv Geffen, Batsheva, and the Idan Raichel Project. Excitedly email them requesting an interview. 
  23. The next day, write a blog post about them. In a fever of self-promotion, email the post to the Heymann Brothers' office, as well.
  24. Watch The Band's Visit. Before you do, muse that the Heymanns could be getting back to you as soon as tomorrow since Sunday is a work day in Israel.
  25. Thus, don't be too surprised when you see that their office manager has replied to your interview request. Hey, you're pretty good at this new media stuff!
  26. Spend the next six or so days arranging a time to interview Tomer Heymann. This will include: renting Paper Dolls so you have some sort of clue about his oeuvre, registering for Skype, emailing the office manager Nevo, getting your tech together, etc.
  27. You are really feeling the Israeli culture. That "novel" set in Israel you were revising during winter holiday but had to stop working on even though it gave you a tremendous amount of joy because the semester came crashing down on you like so many piles of bricks? Your muse is back. Start nailing down your outline. Hee-eyyy!
  28. Rise at 3AM and call Tomer. Wait. They haven't started daylight saving time in Israel yet!?? But Gil told you they had!! Well, shit. Go back to bed.
  29. Get up 45 minutes later. Finally call Tomer at about half past 4AM. He is pretty much just like the interviews of him you've seen. Talk for about half an hour.
  30. Write what might be your lead.
  31. TBD...

17 March 2012

Continuing Adventures In Israeli Masculinity

Wow! It's been an entire week since my last post!

CIFNS had the most guests ever last time, which was pretty exciting. You know Church of Style cannot get enough of queer-themed films or Eytan Fox films. Luckily for Courtney's Israelicious Film Night Series, there's a lot of overlap on that Venn diagram. On March 24, we will screen Fox's After, a 45-minute film about an IDF soldier.

10 March 2012

I'm like, "Wow..."

I forget what link I was following, but yesterday I ended up on the website of the Heymann Brothers, who should so respond to my email at their earliest convenience. They're Israeli documentarians. They've produced films about stalags, Batsheva, and the Idan Raichel Project—among heaps of others.* Of that list, stalags are the only Israeli phenom I am not somewhat obsessed with.

What impressed me the most, though, was this clip from It Kinda Scares Me. I did not initially feel called to view the clip in that the film is about a population—(post-)adolescent males—I take pains to avoid. Maybe the mention of Israeli masculinity in the synopsis was too much catnip. In this clip, Tomer Heymann comes out to a group of young men he's working with on a drama project. No spoilers, but it was because of what the young men said that I'm like, "Wow..."

*"Stalag" refers to a 1960s genre of Israeli pulp fiction—the Heymann Brothers-produced film refers to it as pornography—depicting female Nazis physically and sexually brutalizing their captives. The admittedly somewhat mind-boggling Batsheva is Israel's flagship dance company. The Idan Raichel Project is a "world music" collective that draws on several strands of musical traditions, chiefly, it would seem, of populations in Israel that have been—let's face it—denigrated and marginalized, including Yemenite and Ethiopian. The project is unavoidably multicultural, collaborating with musical artists from other countries, as well. In fact, the newly minted (Vieux Farka) Touré-Raichel Collective will be performing in Platteville (!) next month.

07 March 2012

Pretty Good Week

I had a pretty good week last week. By pretty good, I mean awesome.

The Israeli Film Festival at Hillel was a lot of fun, as I've gushed about elsewhere, especially the closing event.

But the closing event really knocked my socks off. I didn't get to see most of Voices From El-Sayed because I ended up walking most of the way to the Waisman Center after my class ended. The evening included a panel with community members, people involved with the Waisman Center, and El-Sayed's Israelicious director Oded Adomi Leshem; food; a performance of ASL poetry by Peter Cook; and a screening of Deaf Jam, a completely amazing movie. I scooted out before the event was over because...

I went to Chicago the morning afterward to attend AWP. I had such an overwhelmingly positive experience. The people I talked to were so nice! The volunteer wrangler on AWP's staff (hi, Anne!), the poor marketing schmo fro m W.W. Norton, the other volunteers. I went to a really cool session featuring Jaimy Gordon and Rebecca Skloot that I hadn't even planned on attending. The bookfair made my head spin--and I didn't even see all of it. I saw Major Jackson sitting in the hotel lobby, then immediately ran into Kembrew McLeod, whom I hadn't see in godknowshowlong. I had forgotten how the wind comes in off Lake Michigan! But I walked up to Palmer House anyway for Jacinda's session. It's too bad we didn't get to talk longer. I'm so glad I finally went to AWP--even if it was only one day. It was very much a kick in the pants I needed.

04 March 2012

I Am No Longer on Facebook

I made the decision to ditch Facebook. It just wasn't worth it.

Courtney's Israelicious Film Night Series' heart will go on, of course. We will be screening The Band's Visit, featuring the inimitable Ronit, at 8PM on Saturday, March 10. No, it is not among Some Ronit Elkabetz Films to See, but that's ok, too.

01 March 2012

Some Ronit Elkabetz Films To See

I’ve had difficulty deciding what to do my list-themed blog post about. I’ve been going back and forth about it all week. After batting around several lists ideas—Israeli films to see, Ronit Elkabetz films to see, Israeli novels to read, kibbutzim to visit, lists I could have made—I’ve decided to go with the Ronit Elkabetz list. I found myself thinking about her earlier this evening; if she’s stayed on my mind, she’d definitely worth writing about.

Yesterday evening I was looking at photos of Elkabetz. She looks like (or reminds me of) Jennifer Connelly. I think it’s the eyebrows. Connelly is more conventionally beautiful, but it's impossible to stop looking at Elkabetz's face. 

Described once by the Jewish Daily Forward as "Sephardic Jewry's film princess," Elkabetz, indeed of Moroccan heritage, is likely Israel's top actress.* (Though, she has portrayed her share of prostitutes.) Her films are definitely worth the film-lover's time. Without further ado, here are in no particular order some Ronit Elkabetz films to see.

Late Marriage
This 2001 film pairs Elkabetz with "the Israeli Brad Pitt," Lior Ashkenazi. It's essential Elkabetz viewing. It sort of put both of them on the map internationally. Notorious famous for its extended sex scene between the leads, Late Marriage is the story of Zaza, a PhD student pressured to marry a nice girl by his Georgian immigrant parents. The problem is that he's in love with the completely unsuitable thirtysomething Moroccan divorcee Judith.

Elkabetz makes her second movie with her Or (My Treasure) collaborators, director Keren Yedaya and co-star Dana Ivgy, respectively. Ivgy once again plays her daughter. Jaffa is a Romeo and Juliet story. Ivgy stars as Mali, the Jewish Juliet to Mahmud Shalaby's Palestinian Romeo, Toufik, who works in Mali's father's garage. As in most Romeo and Juliet stories, things fall fatefully apart.

To Take a Wife
Elkabetz not only starred in this film, but also she wrote directed it with her brother Shlomi Elkabetz. Viviane, her character, is a hairdresser, wife, and mother of four. In To Take a Wife, the return of a former lover shows her what a flimsy foundation her life is built upon.

The Flood
The Flood shows that, like families everywhere, each miserable Israeli family is unique. By now, Elkabetz has more than proved that playing a mother does not mean an actress is past her prime. The film's center is Yoni, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah. He hasn't entered puberty yet; his parents don't really talk to each other; and his autistic brother returns home when the institution in which he was cared for goes bankrupt. 

There are obviously films that are not on the list. American audiences may be most likely to recognize Elkabetz from Or (My Treasure). She was also in The Band's Visit and Téchiné's The Girl on the Train. At any rate Ronit Elkabetz is an actress whose work is worth getting to know.

*For people unfamiliar with Israel, Moroccans have been especially maligned and denigrated in Israeli society, which has been socially, economically, and culturally dominated by Ashkenazi Jews.