A Look at the Jerusalem Film Festival

Or: Why My Movie isn’t in the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Tzvi Fishman

OpEds Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman

Someone asked me why my movie, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman,” wasn’t amongst the entries in the recemt Jerusalem Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. 

First of all, I didn’t finish editing the movie before the festival deadline. But had I entered the film, it wouldn’t have been chosen to be screened at the festival. “Too Jewish.” Of course, that’s not the official reason they would have given. They would have said, “It’s not sufficiently international.” Or, “Except for Yehuda Barkan, the actors aren’t professional enough.” Or, “The quality of the production isn’t in line with the festival’s standards.”

Why is that? I didn’t get a big film grant from the government, which most successful Israeli films get. The budget of my movie was one-twentieth the budget of the films which are awarded grants. I had less days of shooting, less time to work with actors, a much smaller crew, less time for editing, not enough money for an original musical…. But like the Simpleton in Rebbe Nachman’s story, “The Simpleton and the Worldly Son,” I’m happy with my movie. As he says, “Why should I compare myself to others? That’s their work, and this is mine.”   

Before getting back to the Jerusalem Film Festival, let me say something about the grants which are almost always awarded to filmmakers whose political views are strongly toward the left, or to a few token religious Jews who are willing to show Judaism or settlers in a negative light.

A few months ago, my wife said she wanted me to take her to movie. The truth is, ever since I became a baal tshuva some thirty years ago, I’ve seen maybe five movies. I used to love watching movies, but they don’t interest me anymore. But for the sake of family relations, shalom bayit, I checked out what movies were playing in town, figuring that seeing a recent film in movie house might give me some ideas about my own movie while it was still being edited.

Among the many films listed, there was an Israeli film about a kindergarten teacher who tries to help a reclusive child who likes to write poems. “What could be bad about that?” I thought. To help make the movie, one of the government film funds had awarded one-and-a-half million dollars toward the production. So off we went to the movies.

Needless to say, the commercials before the movie weren’t exactly modest, and when I screamed out, “Gevalt!” and covered my eyes with my hands, I could tell that my wife was already regretting that she had dragged me out of the house to watch a film with her. Luckily for her, after ten minutes, I had seen enough. The movie was simply boring, screamingly secular, with zero content. I told my wife that I would wait for her in the car, where I could at least read a book until the film was finished.

“I should have left when you left,” she confided when she got in the car to go home. “To help understand the child, the kindergarten teacher enrolled in a poetry course,” she reported. “Naturally, she has an affair with the guy teaching the course, and there’s a scene where you see him completely nude - frontal nudity!” As I mentioned, I hardly see movies anymore, so I can’t state this for a fact, but to the best of my knowledge, even in America, except for pornographic movies, in regular films,frontal nudity, certainly of men, is not the norm. But here in Israel, there are certain people who want to prove that they can be even more liberal than the goyim – as if that is great art, and they are awarded a million dollars from the government of Israel to put this trash up on the big screen.

Which brings us to the Jerusalem Film Festival. I haven’t bothered to look at their line-up of films, but they are proudly advertising that the final film to be screened at the festival, in a gala evening happening, on a giant screen, against a background of the Old City walls, is the movie, “The Godfather.” The film, for anyone who is not familiar with the story, glorifies the bosses of a powerful Mafia family in America. Put simply, the heroes of the film are gangsters. In a smart commercial decision, the writer of the screenplay, and of the novel upon which the movie was based, Mario Puzu, has the head of the Mafia family, Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, say that he, unlike the other Mafia families, is against prostitution and selling heroin. In other words, he’s a “good” Mafia boss, so the viewer can like him and be happy as he guns down all of his competitors.

Yes, as I remember from having seen the film thirty-five years ago, it is a superbly made movie with great acting, skillful direction, a wonderful musical score, and beautiful cinematography, but from a moral point of view, it makes lowlife criminals into heroes. Political leaders in Israel, from both the right and the left always affirm, and the Israeli media always makes loud and clear, “We are a State which champions law and order.” So why is the Jerusalem Film Festival giving great honor to a film which makes good guys out of criminals? Maybe, in the eyes of the directors of the festival, and its advisory board, the story of minority Italian immigrants fighting for equality in America symbolizes the struggle of the Palestinian minority in Israel in its fight against the evil Israeli establishment. Who knows?

Certainly, in a cinematic sense, “The Godfather” is light-years ahead of my movie. But if a film festival in Jerusalem, funded by the government of Israel, is going to screen a movie against the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, it seems to me that the “Stories of Rebbe Nachman” is a far worthier choice than “The Godfather.”