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January 16, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 16, 2009 Less controversy surrounds By Tom Tugend Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles A record number of 67 countries are vying for the Oscar in the best foreign- language film category, with generally obscure directors from Afghanistan to Ven- ezuela dreaming of sudden recognition in Hollywood and beyond. Among five entries of special Jewish interest, three dealwith Middle East conflicts, one with terrorism in Germany, and one with the friendship between a Jewish and a Muslim family in Morocco. In contrast-to previous years, there have been no acrimonious controversies so far. Apparently all sides have tired of arguing whether the Palestinian entry should be officially designated as coming from Palestine, the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian territory, and plain "Palestine" has won out. Nor has any film been disqualified for too much English dialogue, as happened to Israel's "The Band's Visit" last year. The substitute entry for Israel was "Beaufort," the story of an Israeli army unit during the first Lebanese War, and that conflict between neighbors is revisited by two movies this year. Lebanon's "Under the Bombs" depicts Israel's 2006 invasion to wipe out Hezbol- lah terrorists and the devasta- tion it brought to the southern part of the country. The film's only professional actors play an upper-class Muslimwoman. living abroad. and the Christian taxi driver she hires in Beirut to search for her son and sister in a de- stroyed southern village. On their odyssey, the oddly paired driver and passenger en- counter refugees, puzzled and bitter by the loss of homes and relatives, but Franco-Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi largely steers away from sweep- ing denunciations. Some villagers accuse Hez- bollah fighters of"stirring up a hornets' nest" and dislike them almost as much as they do the Israelis. "This is not a political or propaganda film." said Aractingi in a phone call from his home in Paris. "It's a hu- man rights film about people caught in a war they don't want or comprehend. "When I was a schoolboy in Beirut, we were taught that Lebanon was a neutral country, like Switzerland. So people don't understand why they're being bombed." Israel's entry, "Waltz With Bashir." is also about war in Lebanon. this one in 1982. but in every other respect the approach and technique are radically different. Director Ari Folman com- bines state-of-the-art anima- tion. an anti-war theme and psychological analysis in the autobiographical story of a traumatized Israeli soldier trying to recover suppressed memories of combat. Aractingi and Folman have never met. but the Lebanese PAGE 15A 1is year's Osc ar foreign film entries director said he "loved" "Waltz With Bashir." He hopes to meet his Israeli counterpart, if both films are among the finalists, although a public meetiog might be "politically risky" for Aractingi. "Salt of This Sea," the Pal- estinian entry, is more hard- edged and propagandistic than such skillful predeces- sors as "Divine Intervention." "Olive Harvest" and "Rona's Wedding." Soraya (Suhar Hammad) is a young Brooklyn-born woman of Palestinian descent, who learns that when her grandfather abandoned his stately Jaffa home in 1948. he left behind a bank account of 315 pounds in the British- Palestine Bank. Obsessed with the idea of reclaiming her grandfather's savings, Soraya comes to Is- rael. meets handsome young Emad (Saleh Bakri. Israel's current heartthrob), and when the bank manager tells Soraya that the account no longer exists, the pair get the money (plus interest) by holding up the bank. Later, disguised as Israelis and with Israeli license plates on their car, the pair visits the grandfather's home in Jaffa and giddily samples the attractions of Tel Aviv. There are no scenes of outright Israeli brutality, but the film conveys the Pales- tinians' sense of humiliation during airport interrogations, searches at roadblocks and denials of exit visas to study abroad. The Moroccan entry, "Goodbye Mothers," by di- rector Mohamed Ismail, is an oddly affecting though somewhat amateurish film that focuses on the close friendship between a Jewish and a Muslim family. The location is Casablanca. and the time is the early 1960s, when large numbers of Moroc- can Jews clandestinely made their way to Israel in defiance of a ban by the Moroccan government. Both families are portrayed with equal sympathy, and the only shady character is an Israeli emissary sent to spur the exodus to the Jewish state. The film is marred by some wild mugging and overacting, reminiscent of silent movies, and frequently awkward Eng- lish subtitles. Germany's entry, "The Baader-Meinhof Complex," also looks back to the 1960s and '70s. when the West JNF launches emergency campaign for southern rael NEW YORK. N.Y.--In re- sponse to ongoing rocket attacks that have plagued southern Israel and the IDF's incursion into Gaza. Jewish National Fund (JNF) has an- nounced Operation Security Blanket: Southern Israel. an emergency campaign empow- eringAmerican Jews to provide immediate relief for Israeli chil- dren and their families living in areas under rocket attack along the Gaza border. Proceeds wilt benefit the community in several ways: Fund the 20.000-square- foot secure indoor recreation center JNF is building in Sderot. Send families from Sderot to JNF camps near Jerusalem, providing respite from the rocket attacks. Sponsor Sderot's youth to be members of Green Ho- rizons scout groups. Build a fire station in Sderot and purchase five new fire trucks for southern Israel (previously purchased trucks already service Ashdod and Ashkelon). Build and maintain se- curity roads along the border with Gaza to protect the areas residents as they travel towork and school. "Kassam rockets are de- signed to scare people off and get them to leave their homes and move away," said Stanley M. Chesley, JNF president. "But the people of Sderot are strong and our work is designed to give them a future and a sense of pride." The $5 million secure indoor recreation center was conceived of in May when it was clear that Sderot's streets were empty; children had no where to play. The center. which is set to open in time for Purim 2009 (late Febru- ary/early March), is designed to alleviate the trauma that dictates their lives and give back a sense of normalcy to children and their families. It will have an indoor soccer field, video games, playground equipment, food court, disco, movie theatre, zipline, ther- apy rooms, courtyard BBQ area. and more. The center, which has rooms that double as bomb shelters, will be used by seniors in the morning, children and youth groups in the afternoon. JNF is partnering with many area organizations; it is a center for everyone. "Even if not one more Kas- sam hits the area the center is a gift to the families of Sderot and the surrounding commu- nities," said Chesley. For the past few years, JNF has sponsored Short vacations for families and children from Sderot and the villages near the Gaza Strip border, to give them respite from daily rocketattacks. Vacationswere also provided during times of emergency like the 2006 war with Hezbollah. The first group of 50 children, ages 7-12 from Sderot's Ethio- pian community, is in Nes Harim now. JNF hopes to send as many children as possible Scene from 'Waltz With Bashir.' German "Red Army Fac- tion" went on a murderous rampage against some its leading countrymen allegedly subservient to American and Israeli "imperialism." Amid incessant gun battles, the only comic relief in the high-tension docudrama comes when Yasser Arafat's men in Jordan try to train and impose a minimum of discipline on the unruly, and frequently nude, German ter- rorists of both genders. Director Uli Edel. who lived through the film's era as a young man, recreates the setting and mood of the time with impressive fidelity. Some German critics have complained that the film "humanizes" the gang and its psychopathic leader. Andreas Baader. But in an interview, Edel pointed to his long closing scene, which dwells on the senseless, brutal murder of a German businessman. For the first time, Jordan has entered a film. but "Cap- tain Abu Raed" steers away from war and politics by offering a mellow tale about an aging airport janitor who is mistaken for a glamorou international pilot by neigh- borhood urchins. Nine finalists among the 67 competing films were to be announced the week of Jan. 12 [but after the time the Heritage goes to press]. They will be winnowed down to five on Jan. 22. with the winner clutching the Oscar at the Academy Award ceremonies on Feb. 22. The Golden Globes award nominations by the Hol- lywood Foreign Press Assn., which often foreshadow the Oscar picks, include "Waltz with Bashir" and"The Baader- Meinhof Complex." The two movies are also frequently mentioned as favorites by vari- ous groups of film critics. Also among likely foreign film contenders are Italy's "Gomorrah." Sweden's "Ev- erlasting Moments." France's "The Class," Argentina's "The Lion's Den," Turkey's "Three Monkeys" and Singapore's "My Magic." "Salt of This Sea" and "Un- der the Bombs" are considered long shots. In the Documentary Fea- tures category, with a record 94 entries. "Blessed Is the Match: The Life and De.ath of Hannah Senesh." about the World War II Israeli hero- ine who parachuted behind enemy lines, has qualified among the 15 finalists. Reprinted by permission of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. The food court area of the indoor recreation center. for five days of rocket-free life and alleviate the trauma and stress they have been living with for years. Addi- tionally the Green Horizons scout groups take children away from the trauma and teach them leadership skills. Through scholarships, JNF is providing this opportunity to children in Sderotwho cannot afford membership. JNF is also focused on providing the funds to build a much-needed fire station and purchase fire trucks in Sderot to help fight fires and protect all open spaces, forests, and sites within rocket range. Jewish National Fund has consistently been on the ground in Israel with action. not just words. Even as fight- ing broke out, 120 college stu- dents were in southern Israel. on JNF's Alternative Winter Breakworking on community service projects and making a difference to the people who live there. Each participant raised $950 to go on the trip; proceeds went to the recreation center. Operation Security Blanket: Southern Israel will continue to pro- vide real and tangible benefits to the citizens of Israel. Donations to the campaign can be made online at http:// or by calling your local JNF office at 888-JNF-0099. JNF's speakers are also available to address the cur- rent crisis in Israel. To reserve a speaker from JNF's Speaker's Bureau, or to reach one of JNF's Israel emissaries who are available for com- ment, contact Debbie Scher at dscher@jnf.0rg or 212- 879-9305, ext. 297orvisit the Speaker's Bureauweb page on the JNF Web site. 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