April 3, 2008 / 3:22 PM / 10 years ago

Israeli films get personal with war and polygamy

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - From one soldier’s account of the Lebanon war to the tale of an Israeli African prince, a Tel Aviv film festival is looking beyond political conflict to examine broader issues of strife and identity in Israel.

“People associate Israel with hardcore news, with fighting and conflict,” said Ilana Tsur, the event’s director. “But it’s important to see there’s such a wide range of other facets to life.”

The films at Tel Aviv’s 10th international documentary film festival, which opens on Thursday, tackle meaty political themes such as Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and its 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

But they also examine private and cultural struggle in a young country — Israel turns 60 next month — where a Russian Holocaust survivor and an Ethiopian Jew, or an ultra-Orthodox family and a secular singleton might live as neighbors.

Tsur said that after years of dissecting Israel’s fight with the Palestinians, young filmmakers were telling more personal stories, and turning their focus onto broader issues of identity within Israeli society.

About a quarter of the 80 films in the festival are Israeli.

“Brides of Allah” features Palestinian women serving Israeli jail sentences for helping plot suicide bombings.

Reserve soldier Yoshi Mozer made “My First War” after he was drafted for the Lebanon war and fought with his videocamera tied with a shoelace around his neck.

“This film isn’t about the political set-up and operation of the conflict, it’s about the personal impact on a young man of a war that doesn’t enjoy consensus,” said Tsur.

“Holy Fire” cuts to the heart of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by throwing a spotlight on Jerusalem, a city sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Shot during key religious festivals, the film highlights the foibles and contradictions of believers from all three faiths by splicing together footage taken by CCTV cameras in and around the Old City, home to many of the world’s most revered religious sites.

Many of the films focus on issues of identity and diversity in the Jewish state.

“Brides of the Desert” looks at polygamy among the desert-dwelling bedouin people, while “Yideshe Mama” tackles racial intermarriage by documenting one man’s painful choice between his Russian mother and Ethiopian fiancee.

“King Lati the First” recounts how the Israeli 8-year-old Hebrew-speaking basketball-crazy son of a Senegalese immigrant and a Belarussian Jew discovers he is the prince of an African tribe.

“In Israel we are at a crossroads between East and West, between different religions; we have issues like immigration and inter-marriage,” said Tsur. “Young filmmakers are looking at Israel from a different angle.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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