The second in a short series of guest posts by Larry Mark.
Films and Falafels Make for a fun SchmoozeDance 2007
As tens of thousands traveled to Park City Utah this weekend for Slamdance and Sundance, nearly 100 made their way to Park City’s Temple Har Shalom for the seventh annual Schmoozedance Oneg Shabbat, film festival and celebration of independent Jewish and Israeli films and filmmakers
While preparing for the festival earlier in the day, and wearing a conspicuous Jewish tag, I became a magnet for Jewish witnessing. One blonde newscaster told me, â€œI’m Jewish and so is my boyfriend.â€ Another television cooking show informed me that, â€œMy grandmother was Jewish. I am a light haired Greek, but my mother’s mother was Jewish.â€ Even a parking lot attendant offered up the following when he saw I represented SchmoozeDance: â€œYou know, my grandfather was Jewish, his name was Morgenthaler.â€ Talk about hidden Jews in Utah!
Schmoozedance returned to Temple Har Shalom, which is building a new synagogue building for it’s over 200 members and families. There were only ten seats left when the Oneg Shabbat began, and by Aleinu, only two remained open. After a post Kiddush period of schmoozing that included challah, latka chips, stuffed grape leaves, hummous in various styles and falafel balls, our film festival began.
We kicked off with Hot House, an Israeli documentary at Sundance by director Shimon Dotan. Nearly two decades ago, Dotan made The Smile of The Lamb, a fictional film that he was sure would solve the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Dotan, who was born in Romania and immigrated to Israel with his family, has taught filmmaking around the world, including at TAU in Tel Aviv, Concordia in Montreal and NYU in New York City. Seeking a way to stay longer in Israel in 2005, since a family member was ill, he happened upon an Israeli tv report about Palestinian security prisoners in an Ashkelon prison. Intrigued, he turned this into an idea for a documentary: the story of some of the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and their role in the Palestinian Authority leadership. Over 60% of the Palestinian leadership have served time in Israeli prisons.
While they are seen as terrorists and security prisoners by Israeli Jews, they are considered to be freedom fighters and prisoners of war by Palestinians and many Israeli Arabs.
At first the prisons authority declined his request for access to the prisoners. His second request was also softly rejected. His third request, using a little protectzia perhaps, was granted.
The documentary opens with great suspense, helped along by a pulsating score by Ron Klein, which sounds a little like the beats of Subliminal. It is February 2006, a month after the Palestinian elections in which many of the winners were incarcerated in Israeli prisons. A montage of male prisoners from Block 7, Cell 7 in the Be’er Sheva Prison begins; each recites his name, village, crime, and sentence. Many are serving multiple life sentences for attacks, bombings, dispatching and recruiting suicide bombers, and abetting terrorism. The cells are divided by political affiliations: Fatah, Hamas, PFLP, Islamic Jihad, and other groups.
As we meet the prisoners and their leaders and hear their stories, a picture emerges that Israeli prisons are incubators for the future P.A. leadership and plotters. No longer needing to hide and run, many have time to watch the news, read the papers, take correspondence courses at Israeli Hebrew-speaking universities, and even watch Oprah.
As the story continues, Palestinian elections are called for, and the documentary captures the campaign, its results, and the effects they have behind prison walls.
Dotan was granted unheard of access to the prisoners and prisons, including Hasharon Prison for women, the Negev Detention Center, and a prison in Ashkelon. Most prisoners speak from the heart, and others do not stray from their ideological scripts. The profess victimhood to the same degree as do the Israeli Jews.
Dotan includes interviews with a failed suicide bomber who looks forward to killing Jews in the future, as well as the female mastermind of the King George Street supermarket and the Sbarro pizza restaurant bombings. She is serving 16 life terms and is the most media savvy and chilling of the interviewees. A former Palestinian television newscaster, she knows very well how to play to the camera.
Adam Hootnick was then introduced with his Slamdance film, Unsettled. Unsettled is Adam’s documentary that focuses on 6 young Israeli over 6 days of the Gaza withdrawal in 2005. Cut with excellent music and emotional images, Hootnick’s film follows two surfing Gaza settlers, two soldiers, settler activists and disengagement activists. Adam showed special outtakes from his film, and also flew in two of the film’s stars to answer questions. Another 20 minute Q&A sessions began.
At 9 P.M., thirty members of the audience wanted to stay for more films, and so we showed the other shorts that I had brought with me. Iris Bahr’s one woman comedy that was shot in Israel had people laughing in the aisles, or if not aisles, then at least â€œpews.â€
Schmoozedance was a brilliant success. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to eat, and only 4 dozen plain pitas were left, so I headed to my condo and contemplated a film screening before bed.