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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 31, 2009 Tradition and modernity collide in women's documentaries By Rachel Freedenberg j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO--A beauty pageant is probably the least likely place to find a sympathetic, down-to-earth heroine. But that's where we find Duah Fares, the curly-haired, bright-eyed beauty at the center of"Lady Kul el-Arab." The hourlong documentary follows Fares on her path to becoming the first Druze woman to compete in the Miss Israel pageant. The film is playing in this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, as part of the "Women Shoot- ing Women: Israeli Doc- umentary Filmmakers" program. Also part of the program is "Desert Brides," a look at Israel's Bedouin population and its practice of polygamy. In "Lady Kul el-Arab," we meet Fares as she is preparing to compete in the small-time Lady of the Arabs beauty pageant, but you can see the wheels of celebrity spinning behind her eye shadow and lip gloss. Fares wants to make it big--bigger than Lady of the Arabs, which at best, she says, will get her $10,000 and her face on a supermarket poster. Early on in the film Fares enlists her devoted pageant coach, Jack, to help her gain admission to the far more glamorous Miss Israel pag- eant, under the stage name of Angelina (as in Jolie). But there's a catch. If Fares becomes Lady of the Arabs, she'll be ineligible for Miss Israel because of scheduling conflicts (al- though one wonders if that's the only reason). But if She participates in Miss Israel, she risks angering the tradi- tional Druze villagers, who disagree with the pageant's swimsuit portion and think she should stick with the more modest competition. A scene shown before the opening credits depicts the fallout of Fares' decision, so it's no surprise when she fails to show up for the Lady of the Arabs pageant, leaves her parents a note and heads for Tel Aviv. What happens next, though, is an almost un- believable series of events. Fares embarks on a whirl- wind month of travel with the rest of the pageant participants, but she comes home to a very different world. Her family has been excommunicated, her father is in jail and her uncle is trying to kill her. Now trailed 24/7 by a large security detail, Fares San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Duah Fares, a Druze beauty pageant contestant, is the subject of the documentary "Lady Kul el-Arab." struggles with her next choice: acquiesce to the Druze traditionalists, or follow her dreams to the Miss Israel catwalk? Directed by Ibtisam Mara'ana, a Palestinian woman, and produced by Barak Heymann, who co- directed six documentaries that played in last year's S.F. Jewish Film Festival, "Lady Kul el-Arab" has a refreshingly light touch. There are no self-conscious confessional-style inter- views--rather, the story organically unfolds to the viewer whenever the char- acters want to explain it on-camera. At just 56 minutes, though, the film seems a bit rushed, and many compel- ling situations end up being mere footnotes--a problem likely exacerbated by Fares' tight security at the Miss Israel pageant. But Fares' story is so intriguing (and her eyes so big) that it's impossible not to root for her--and even shed a tear or two. The conflict between tra- ditional values and modern temptations explored in "Lady Kul el-Arab" comes to a head in "Desert Brides," an examination of the still- prevalent tradition of po- lygamy in Israel's Bedouin communities. The documentary focuses on several women--first wives, second wives, even seventh wives--and their struggles with this ancient tradition. Some have been married for years; others are still girls, too young to marry; a few are about to get married for the first time. Even ardent feminists will likely find the film patroniz- ing, since it largely consists of seemingly interminable scenes of women sitting around complaining to each other about men and how much they resent polyga- my-but usually coming to the conclusion that this is just the way things are. Likewise, the men sit around comparing women to "spare tires" and talk about how they'd like to bash their wives' heads against the wall. In fact, judging by this film, not a single decent man is to be found in all of Rahat, a Bedouin city of around 42,000 in the Negev desert. "Desert Brides" doesn't shy away from showing the gory details of Bedouin life, either. Anyone sensitive to depictions of animal slaughter should be on the alert for several graphic scenes in which the com- munity butchers animals in the street, then chops up their carcasses. There is also a shocking background comment about killing Jews like sheep. The best moment in "Desert Brides" comes late in.the film, as first wife Rasima describes the day her husband told her he was taking a second wife, and how she planned the wedding--and managed to smile through it all. But even some of the film's most likable char- acters turn out to be duds. Rasima's husband's second wife, whose first husband left her when she became pregnant, initially comes across sympathetically-- until she viciously de- nounces the sweet Rasima for being "uneducated." You'll need a flowchart to keep all the relationships straight, and each person is only identified once, leading to some confusion as the 90-minute film plods on. Mostly, though, "Desert Brides" suffers from being just a bit too boring and oblique. Too much time is spent on non-essential scenes and conversations, and you can't help but feel that filmmaker Ada Ushpiz would have been better served by only focusing on two or three of the most compelling women, rather than having an endless troupe of characters all repeating the same opinion. Reprinted with permis- sion from j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern Califor- nia, www.jweekly.com. Filmmakers seek donors to fund film about children of Sderot By Anav Silverman A feature length film about Sderot's traumatized chil- dren is currently underway. Sderot Media Center's Noam Bedein has teamed up with U.S. producer and director Liane Thompson to create "Missile City Kids," a film fea- turing the trauma-stricken children of Sderot following years of rocket fire. Missile City Kids, at http:// www.missilecitykids.com, is a non-political project about children suffering from the terrorq, elated post traumatic stress disorder that has engulfed the civilian popu- lation of Sderot. Sderot, an Israeli city located less than a mile away from Gaza, has been subject to attacks from 10,000 missiles in the past eight years. Studies have revealed that as many as 70 to 94 percent of Sderot's children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many Sderot chil- dren find support at the local resilience center but due to budget cuts, the center will soon shut down. "We want to use the power of a good film to create global awareness about terror- related PTSD in children worldwide," Liane Thomp- son told Sderot Media Center. Thompson has received three-time Prime Time Emmy nominations and a public awareness award from the American Medical Asso- ciation for her work as an ex- ecutive producer on the cable television program "Trauma: Life in the ER." As an ex- ecutive with New York Times Television, the TV unit of The New York Times, Thompson has delivered more than 130 hours of programming to U.S. broadcasters such as Viacom's Showtime Network, National Geographic Televi- sion, Discovery Communica- tion, Inc., Discovery Health, The Food Network and more. Independently, Thompson created the anti-terror tech- nology program "Outsmart- ing Terror," which aired to millions worldwide on National Geographic Televi- sion. "'Outsmarting Terror' was about how we fight terrorism, but as terrorism becomes a part of our daily psyche, my next film, 'Missile City Kids,' will focus on the psychological ramifications of living in a terror stricken world," said Thompson. "Missile City Kids" is planned follow the lives of several children, portraying their daily struggle with psy- chological terror. However, primary filming has yet to begin. The project, now in the development stage, is seeking an executive produc- er or financial backing from an "angel" investor or donor. The producers have secured some company sponsorships including Phone.corn, which has given the filmmakers a U.S. toll-free number for potential supporters to call and learn more (1-877-801- 6099). PLYmedia has offered various language subtitling and other products once the film is complete. Film completion is still a long way off, since raising money for a documentary is proving difficult in these hard economic times. But Thomp- son remains optimistic. "Potential investors will see the film's value as a product that not only creates worldwide aware- ness about PTSD but can also generate an economic return. We just launched fund-raising efforts last month at the social media Twitter 140 Characters Conference and at the U.S.- Israeli Executive Summit held in New York City," Thompson said. Sderot Media Center's di- rector Noam Bedein said that it was a pleasure to work with a professional like Thompson. "We hope that Missile City Kids will bring the Sderot reality a little closer to home and shed some light to the devastating impact that rocket terror has had on the children of Sderot and the Negev," said Bedein. Thompson plans to ex- pand the project to other countries where children suffer from terror related post trauma. "While we are focusing on Sderot at the moment, we hope to get the budget to ultimately take the project global to include children suffering from PTSD in other countries such as Afghani- stan, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and more," Thomp- son added. "Today, this is a worldwide pandemic." The Sderot Media Center (http://sderotmedia.org. il/) is a non-profit organiza- tion dedicated to raising worldwide awareness to the plight of Sderot residents. SMC's mission is to convey the "human face behind the headlines" via the arts and media. It's a smash hit from Israel00but only at film festivals By Stacey Palevsky j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO--Despite being Israel's biggest box office hit of 2008, "Lost Islands" hasn't been picked up for dis- tribution in the United States, so the only place to see it is in a festival like the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. On the lineup for showings in San Francisco, Berkeley and PaloAlto, "Lost Islands" is both funny and heartrending, and There's a difference in our service You'll see it in your yard i ........ Mauriee Lawn Care l Maintenance. Landscaping. Irrigation i 407.462.3027 I mauricelawncare@yahoo.com ! its earnest blend of comedy and tragedy makes the movie compelling and fun to watch. The Levi family is the centerpiece of "Lost Islands," which is set in the early 1980s. Avraham and Sima Levi have five sons, including twins who are in their final year of high school. The teenage boys love cinema, American '80s pop music and girls. One of the twins, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), is ebullient, a constant funnyman and risk-taker. The other, Erez (Michael Moshonov), is serious and more reserved, and favors quiet brooding to his brother's clowning around. Their father (Shmil Ben Ari) is a quirky, stem man who raises cacti and compares the plants to the Jews (both are survivors under any circumstance). He believes life is about dreaming big, and fulfilling those dreams. Hiswife (Orly Silbersatz) is a loving mother most intent on helping her son Ofer achieve his life-long goal of entering the Israeli army's elite com- mando unit. Though the twins are almost finished with high school, the center of their lives is the family. They dance around together in their family room and gather on the sofa to watch their favorite TV series, about a group of people living on an island, trapped in time. But when Erez discovers a shocking family secret and accidentally triggers a family catastrophe, things begin to fall apart, and he starts to suffer under the weight of his secret. Meanwhile, the twins befriend a redheaded beauty at school who captures both of their hearts. The secrecy and the girlfriend competition strain their friendship and their brotherhood. And as if that wasn't enough drama, the 1982 Lebanon War is beginning. Reshef Levi made his di- rectorial debut with a fine cast, and the film is superbly acted. The movie won four Ophir Awards, Israel's Oscar equivalent: best actor (Mosho- nov as Erez), best supporting actor (Ben Ari as Avraham), best music and best costume design. So why has the film been ignoredby every U. S. distribu- tor?"It'sabig disappointment," Israeli producer David Zilber told the Los Angeles Times, which ran the headline "Is Israeli film 'Lost Islands' too funny for U.S.?" when the film made its U. S. debut in the Israeli Film Festival in Hollywood last month. Zilber presented one theory in the Times article, saying that U.S. distributors want small, art-house dramas from overseas rather than popular comedies. But while "Lost Islands" in- vites viewers in with its catchy soundtrack of American pop music and universal humor, it also asks deep, difficult questions about honesty, war and a son's dreams versus his family's wishes. It's thoughtful and enter- taining, funny and sad, and complex. In fact, it's got so much going for it that there's a good deal of interest in doing an American remake, accord- ing to Zilber. So there. Just because there's no U.S. distributor doesn't mean this film doesn't have a lot to offer. Reprinted with permission from j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, www. jweekly.com.