By Jewish Studies Minor Alexander Opalikhin

Sunday, September 10 and Thursday, September 14

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to help run the Israeli Film Festival with the Jewish Studies Serling Institute at Michigan State University. Most of my helping out consisted of putting up flyers, tabling the entrance, and setting up the dinner. For the rest of the eight-hour time of the event, I was able to participate and watch the movies being put up. Even as a staff member for this event, I had a great time. Each of the three films that were played were all insightful in their own ways, each providing a unique look into the experience of the people living in Israel’s borders. The first film, Cinema Sabaya (2021), shows the experience of a director running a film workship with Arab and Jewish women, exploring important topics not just related to filmmaking, but issues of gender, ethnicity, prejudice, and domestic abuse. This movie handles the many topics it juggles with extraordinary care, making sure every character feels genuine, despite their religion, ethnicity, or sexuality. One thing that really surprised me was the commentary on non-straight relationships, which I felt the film handled with care. One of the women in the group is bisexual, and this discovery is played earnestly with a respect that many filmmakers from all over the world oftentimes ignore. Each film was followed by a commentary, and after this film, us in the audience were able to ask Amal Murkus, an actress featured heavily in the film, some questions. This open discussion space allowed for insightful discussion on not only the filmmaking process, but the themes it portrays. The highlight of this section was Cinema Sabaya winning an award for Best Director while Murkus was on the zoom call, allowing her to announce this to the audience. That was a very fun moment of excitement. The second film is a documentary called The Narrow Bridge (2022). It follows the paths from trauma to activism that some people take due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While I did not watch much of this film due to work, the parts I did see were very inspiring, and as a musician, the appearance of Leonard Cohen in the film was excellent. The last film, and likely my favorite, was Here We Are (2020). This film follows a father, Aharon, raising his autistic son Uri, but as Uri reaches adulthood, Aharon takes Uri and runs away in fear of having to put his son into a specialized home. The movie acts as a coming of age story for not just the son and his experience, but for Aharon learning to let go, as even know he may know what is best for Uri, he can’t raise his son forever. The portrayal of Uri’s condition, and the relationship between him, his parents, and the world around him, are incredibly accurate, and handled with such care to ensure that Uri is never made a fool of. The tense relationship of Aharon and Uri’s mother is portrayed extremely well, not to mention the excellent cinematography, music, and script that accompany the film. The discussion afterwards allowed for more discussion of the topics in the film, which also include financial struggle and cultural norms in Israel. This is a film I likely will never forget, and I am thankful to have been able to see it at the festival. Overall, the Israeli Film Festival provided a window into Israeli society, and allowed the audience not only to think about this films, but to talk about them. All three films are about shared experiences of people within Israel, and through those films and our discussions, we take away a piece of this experience as well.