A short list of fifteen documentaries that are being considered for 2011 Academy Award nominations has been released. Although “Joan Rivers. A Piece of Work,” “A Film Unfinished,” and “Catfish” are not on the shortlist, an Israeli documentary is. “Precious Life,” which had its North American premiere in New York City this week at the Other Israel Film Festival and in LA at the AFI Film Festival and the Museum of Tolerance, is a documentary about the relationship that developed between Shlomi Eldar, an Israeli Channel 10 TV journalist, and a Palestinian family that is seeking medical treatment for their infant son in Israel. It is directed by Eldar and told from his POV and follows the family of Mohammed Abu-Mustafa, the medical staff and devoted Israeli doctor at Sheba Medical Center, and an anonymous Israeli donor who covers their medical bills. All this happens against the backdrop of the Gaza operations. It doesn’t help relationships when the infant’s mother says that she would gladly sacrifice her son for Jerusalem.
At one point in Eldar’s documentary, Raida Abu Mustafa, the infant’s mother discusses shahids (martyrs) and how she would like to see her son be a suicide bomber to regain Jerusalem. She declares, “Jerusalem is ours. We are all for Jerusalem.” She continued, “For us, death is a natural thing. We are not frightened of [it]… we will all sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Jerusalem. We feel we have the right to it. You’re free to be angry, so be angry.” It is one of the most dramatic segments of the film, when Eldar cannot contain his anger and asks why they are fighting to save her son when he will be used as a killer. She replies that life is nothing and worthless and it leads to suicidal (homicidal) bombers. “After Mohammed gets well, I will certainly want him to be a shahid. If it’s for Jerusalem, then there’s no problem. For you it is hard, I know; with us, there are cries of rejoicing and happiness when someone falls as a shahid. For us a shahid is a tremendous thing.” The story was captured in Haaretz weekend magazine in July 2010.
May I be parochial and mention that other short listed documentaries are “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” by Alex Gibney (Spitzer, a former Governor of New York, is of Jewish heritage); “Restrepo” by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, about a platoon in Afghanistan (two of the featured soldiers are of Jewish heritage); and â€œWilliam Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,â€ by two of his daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler, about the life, loves and battles of the late civil rights attorney, William Kunstler.
Also on the list are â€œEnemies of the People,â€ by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, on the topic of genocide; â€œExit Through the Gift Shop,â€ by a pseudo-person known as Banksy; â€œGasland,â€ by Josh Fox; â€œGenius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,â€ by Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, (Glenn Gould was not of the Jewish faith, though he did like various things named Goldberg); â€œInside Job,â€ by Charles Ferguson; â€œThe Lottery,â€ by Madeleine Sackler; â€œQuest for Honor,â€ by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni; â€œThis Way of Life,â€ by Thomas Burstyn; â€œWaiting for â€˜Superman,’â€ about education reform by Davis Guggenheim; â€œThe Tillman Story,â€ by director Amir Bar-Lev; and â€œWaste Land,â€ directed by Lucy Walker.
In other film news, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City is having a retrospective, beginning this weekend, of the works of Menachem Golan and his cousin, Yoram Globus. Known for making money on marginal films, Golan and Globus became infamous for Death Wish films, Chuck Norris action films, The Delta Force, Missing in Action, Exterminator 2, King Solomon’s Mines, American Ninja, Operation Thunderbolt, and my favorite (I still have the album for it): Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Some of their films, though very profitable, were deemed unwatchable by critics. Golan received award nominations for The House on Chelouche Street, Operation Thunderbolt, I Love You Rosa, and Sallah. Operation Thunderbolt, the Israeli film directed by Menahem Golan and released in 1977, will be screened on November 20 and feature a talkback session with Mr. Golan. It starred Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning, and tells the story of the July 1976 Israeli raid at Entebbe. In the words of Boogaloo Shrimp, Be There or Be Square.
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